General Assembly OKs bill creating candidate finance audits

March 10, 2022 GMT
Virginia State Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, addresses the Senate during a session at the Capitol, Thursday March 10, 2022, in Richmond, Va. Spruill amended a bill dealing with campaign finance. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia State Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, addresses the Senate during a session at the Capitol, Thursday March 10, 2022, in Richmond, Va. Spruill amended a bill dealing with campaign finance. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia State Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, addresses the Senate during a session at the Capitol, Thursday March 10, 2022, in Richmond, Va. Spruill amended a bill dealing with campaign finance. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia State Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, addresses the Senate during a session at the Capitol, Thursday March 10, 2022, in Richmond, Va. Spruill amended a bill dealing with campaign finance. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia State Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, addresses the Senate during a session at the Capitol, Thursday March 10, 2022, in Richmond, Va. Spruill amended a bill dealing with campaign finance. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia General Assembly passed a campaign finance reform bill Thursday that adds a new layer of oversight to spending by candidates, but only after an amendment was added so it would not take effect until their next scheduled election cycle is over.

The measure would both tighten record retention requirements and implement reviews of campaign committee financial records by the Department of Elections. Currently, candidates disclose their spending with varying degrees of specificity under what’s effectively an honor system, with no state-sponsored review.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Del. David Bulova, has said the measure is intended to keep candidates honest as they submit their filings.

The Senate, after stalling the bill for nearly a week, passed it Thursday with an amendment added by Democrat Lionell Spruill that said the measure would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2024. All 40 Senate seats and 100 House seats are up for election in 2023, though a pending lawsuit could also force House elections again this year.

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Spruill said delaying the enactment would give the elections department “time to properly put things together.” The amendment also says campaign finance reports filed before the effective date are not subject to oversight.

The Senate passed the measure unanimously. The House then took it up and passed it 96-2. It now goes to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin for consideration.

Nancy Morgan, the coordinator of a grassroots group advocating for campaign finance reform, said she was pleased to see the measure advance, calling the bill a critical step toward accountability and strengthening the Department of Elections.

Under the measure, not every candidate would face a review each year. The measure would set up a randomized review process in which 1% of local candidates, 10% of House and Senate candidates and all statewide candidates would have their reports and records scrutinized for accuracy and completeness.

In a committee hearing, Bulova said other states had successfully implemented such reviews, including neighboring North Carolina, which he said strives to review all campaign finance reports each election cycle.

He also noted the reviews could likely be completed at a relatively small cost to taxpayers. A fiscal impact review of the measure estimated it would take about $33,500 a year to implement. The results of the report would have to be shared with the General Assembly, governor and posted online.

Bulova’s measure also requires receipts or other documentation related to any expenditure greater than $500 be kept on file for certain prescribed periods.

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“I can’t believe we don’t already have this,” he said during one committee hearing.

Virginia campaign finance law allows candidates to spend money they raise on virtually anything, including items for personal use. Bulova’s bill does not change that. Lawmakers defeated measures earlier in the session that would have reined in that ability.

They also killed campaign finance bills aimed at curbing the influence of Richmond-based lobbying powerhouse Dominion Energy and other regulated utilities.