In McDonnell Case, the Real Scandal is What’s Legal

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  • Dale Eisman

The legal system has delivered justice to Bob McDonnell; Virginians should now insist that the political system deliver for them – in the form of tough, sensible campaign finance laws — Common Cause said today.

“Gov. McDonnell will go to prison for accepting personal gifts and loans from a businessman seeking the state’s help in selling his products” said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport. “But in Virginia and many other states, as well as in Washington, D.C., elected officials routinely give special treatment to major campaign donors, and it’s all perfectly legal.

“The judge put the total value of the gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams to Gov. McDonnell at up to $121,000,” Rapoport said. “In accepting them, the governor committed multiple felonies and destroyed his career.

“Now suppose that instead of making personal gifts, Mr. Williams had contributed $121,000 to the governor’s campaign or a political action committee working on his behalf. The donations would have been perfectly legal and the treatment Williams received, including the governor’s personal endorsement for his business and a few meetings with state officials, would have been accepted as business as usual in Richmond.

“The real scandal in Virginia and lots of other places is what’s legal,” Rapoport said. “When it convenes next week, the General Assembly should follow Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s lead and get to work fixing Virginia’s campaign finance system.

“Lawmakers can start by creating an independent Ethics Commission with the power to advise elected officials, investigate the buying and selling of influence, and audit the books of candidates and political committees. They should follow that with a small donor matching system that will let candidates compete and win while relying on small donations — $100 or less – from individuals, a ban on corporate campaign contributions, and disclosure requirements that bring every donor into the open.

“The McDonnell case is a personal tragedy for the governor and his family. Real reforms passed by Virginia legislators can keep it from becoming a permanent scar on the Old Dominion.”