Big Dollar Donors Still Have a Chance to Influence Legislators

There’s a state law in Virginia that prohibits members of the General Assembly from doing any fundraising while the legislature is in session. The spirit of the law is a good one as it’s supposed to prevent legislators from being unduly influenced by big dollar donors. In reality, however, those big dollar donors are still getting a chance to donate — they just do it in the days leading up to the session.

As the Daily Press pointed out in a recent article, there are at least 37 fundraisers for legislators in the month leading up to the General Assembly’s session that starts in January. Of those fundraisers, 15 are scheduled for the final two days before the session is scheduled to begin and will likely attract big dollar donors.

Some of Richmond’s nicer restaurants are popular gathering spots, as is The Jefferson Hotel, a five-star fixture of the capital city. The Virginia Automobile Dealers Association often hosts events in a downtown mansion that serves as its headquarters. The Virginia Beer Wholesalers are a popular host, but other special interest groups and many of the lobbying and consulting firms in Richmond play host as well.

Special interests are the biggest last-minute givers, donating $1.8 million over the last five years just in the last two days before sessions, a Daily Press analysis showed earlier this year.

Now, there are chances to get into these fundraisers without having to donate the large sums that big organizations can produce. Del. Marcus Simon, for instance, held a fundraiser yesterday where the minimum requested donation was $36. And Del. Rip Sullivan held an event where Young Democrats could get in for $25.

There have also been some gatherings where you don’t even need to make a financial donation. Del. Mark Sickles, for instance, had a charity toy drive at his holiday event instead of simply asking for a financial donation and Del. Mark Levine has a monthly meet up with constituents (this month it was at the restaurant Los Tios).

If you know where to search, you can also find out about some pre-session town hall meetings. After seeing something about it in my Facebook feed, for instance, I discovered that Del. Ken Plum Sen. Janet Howell are having a town hall meeting in Reston tonight. Unlike some of the fundraisers for Democrats in Fairfax County, however, this wasn’t listed on the Fairfax County Democratic Committee’s website and couldn’t be easily found on Ken Plum’s website.

I bring this up because I do believe most legislators are at least trying to make sure the “average Joe” has access to their elected officials. But let’s face it, even the most honest legislator will know what opinion came from someone who donated thousands of dollars and which one came from someone who simply showed up at a town hall. That’s especially the case when the money came in just a few days before the legislative session begins.

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