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Opinion Let’s finally pass campaign finance reform in 2020

Steve Descano, left, beat incumbent Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh in the Democratic primary.
Steve Descano, left, beat incumbent Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh in the Democratic primary. (Campaign of Steve Descano, left, and Campaign of Raymond F. Morrogh)

Chap Petersen, a Democrat, represents Fairfax City in the Virginia Senate.

A few months ago, Fairfax County was the envy of American municipalities for its system of law enforcement. Its crime rate was the lowest of any jurisdiction with more than 1 million residents in the United States. Its jail population was at its lowest point in 40 years. The county had successfully implemented jail diversion programs for veterans and drug courts to treat the addicted.

The chief prosecutor, known as the commonwealth’s attorney, was a 35-year courtroom veteran, Raymond F. Morrogh, with a self-effacing style and a record of big-time convictions, including the successful trial of the D.C. sniper in 2003.

Now, Morrogh is out of office, eliminated in a low-turnout Democratic primary by Steve Descano, a challenger primarily funded by activist George Soros through his Justice & Public Safety PAC. Morrogh was outspent 2 to 1; his message of quiet competence was drowned by out by a mail and canvassing campaign that used words such as “racial profiling” and “mass incarceration” in describing Fairfax County’s criminal-justice system.

The fact that these buzzwords were largely irrelevant in the low-crime, progressive county didn’t matter. It was a winning message in a primary focused on hardcore partisan voters. By a narrow margin, the Soros-funded campaign was able to unseat Morrogh in favor of a “progressive” champion who has never tried a case in a Virginia courthouse.

Over the years, I have filed campaign finance bills in Richmond with the intent of leveling the playing field in our Virginia elections. Historically, the target of my legislation has been wealthy individuals or corporations seeking special legislation.

The classic example was Dominion Energy, which spent more than half a million dollars in annual donations to members of the General Assembly, who, accordingly, enacted the 2015 “rate freeze” that led to an epic windfall of more than $100 million a year in excess profits.

The Soros episode has raised an entirely new cause d’etre: the wealthy dilettante — right or left — who seeks to impose his viewpoint on a jurisdiction (or jurisdictions) to which he has no evident connection.

In 2020, I will be refiling my legislation to limit campaign donations, state and local, to a maximum of $10,000 per individual or PAC. This limit is comparable to federal limits, which have been found constitutional. Such a limit will bring some sanity back to Virginia politics — and limit the possibility of corruption that occurs when a candidate is funded by one donor.

Every year, we hear that Virginia’s “no limits” donation system is superior. It’s not.

Say no to billionaires. Say yes to democracy. Let’s finally pass campaign finance reform in 2020.

Read more:

Phil Andrews: A regional divide is growing about big money in politics

Stephen Nash: Gov. Northam’s first chance to do something about money in politics

The Post’s View: Virginia’s campaign finance law needs more teeth

Luke Wachob: Roem’s win proves we don’t need to restrict campaign contributions

The Post’s View: Virginia’s ethics laws create a vacuum