by VCU's

April 1, 2002: How Virginia legislators spend the donations they get

During the legislative session, this site was updated each weekday by a student in Mass Comm 375 at Virginia Commonwealth University. See our back issues for daily legislative coverage and other special editions.

:: campaign spending ::
Legislators spent $7.3 million
from their campaign funds in '01
Totals by category
Ranking of legislators
A-Z list of legislators

:: personal benefit? ::
Questionable expenditures

:: political shell game ::
Legislators gave $1.3 million
to other politicians and groups
Ranking of recipients
Ranking of legislators
A-Z list of legislators

:: charitable gifts ::
Legislators gave $168,000+
to churches, NRA and nonprofits
Ranking of recipients
Ranking of legislators

:: some beneficiaries ::
NAACP branches: $3,600
Family Foundation: $2,620
American Red Cross: $1,000
Trinity Ministries : $1,000
National Rifle Assn.: $555
Planned Parenthood: $225

:: ad buys ::
Legislators spent $3 million
on direct mail, other advertising
Ranking of legislators
A-Z list of legislators

:: how we did it ::
> Where we got the data,
how we did the analysis

:: run the credits ::
> A list of the students
who worked on the project

:: feedback ::
> Suggestions, ideas,
tips for coverage? Tell us!

:: gifts galore ::

> In 2000, legislators got more than $117,700 in gifts from businesses, special interests and lobbyists. The gifts ranged from hunting trips and football tickets to steak dinners and golf balls.

Read about who gave what to whom, and search our database of legislative gifts.

:: mega-donors ::

> During the 1999 elections, members of the General Assembly received more than half their money from 150 groups and individuals.

Here are the top donors, and how they fared during the 2000 legislative session.


Is a $1,650 chair a legitimate political expenditure?

Campaign money or 'personal bank accounts'?
A look at the funds state officials refuse to audit

"A lot of delegates look at these as their personal bank accounts."

That's how some General Assembly members treat their campaign-finance funds -- the donations they get from supporters, says Delegate Albert Pollard, D-Lancaster.

The Legislature consistently has rebuffed proposals to audit campaign accounts. So this spring, VCU's Legislative Reporting class examined how lawmakers spent their political funds last year:

  • Some legislators used their campaign accounts to hire their own businesses, pay auto-license fees and buy computers and expensive furniture that they can use when they are out of office.

  • General Assembly members donated $1.4 million of their campaign contributions to other politicians, churches, community groups, labor unions and such organizations as the National Rifle Association.

Lawmakers resist calls to audit their political spending

A growing chorus of Virginia legislators and campaign reform activists wants the state to audit how politicians spend their political donations -- a system they say is open to abuse. The General Assembly rejected such oversight this year but agreed to consider the issue again in 2003. [Story by Holly Clark]

Critics question some legislators' campaign expenditures

Delegate William Robinson of Norfolk lost his race for re-election in November, but that didnít stop him from spending political donations: Just weeks before leaving office, he used campaign funds to buy a $1,650 chair and $4,633 worth of computers. [Story by Corinne Eidson]

A shell game? Money passes from one politician to another

When you make a donation to a Virginia legislator, itís common for the money to wind up in another politicianís pocket. Thatís because state lawmakers give away much of the money that pours into their campaign finance accounts.

Last year, members of the General Assembly used their campaign funds to make $1.23 million in donations to political parties and federal, state and local candidates. [Story by Geoffrey Rowland]

Lawmakers donate to charities, the NRA and other groups

Virginia legislators are a good source of funds for community, charitable and single-interest groups. Using donations they receive from supporters, lawmakers often make contributions to nonprofit organizations, including churches, school groups and health clinics.

Recipients range from the conservative Family Foundation and NRA to Planned Parenthood and the NAACP. [Story by Juan A. Lizama]

Questionable expenditures doomed longtime legislator

Voters donít like it when they think government officials have used campaign money for personal instead of political purposes. Norfolk voters proved that in 1999 by ousting longtime Sen. Stanley C. Walker and replacing him with a political unknown, Nick Rerras.

Walker, a Democrat who died last year, was the longest-serving member of the General Assembly and the Senateís president pro tem at the time. [Story by Sharon Ramos]

Campaign-fund expenditures topped $7 million in 2001

Getting elected is expensive: Virginia legislators last year spent about $7.3 million from their campaign funds, on items ranging from political consulting and office equipment to bumper stickers and picture frames. [Story by Olivia Lloyd]

Direct mail rules, newspapers lag, in campaign ads

Delegate Thomas Bolvin didnít spend any money on radio or television commercials for his re-election campaign last year. He didnít buy any newspaper ads, either. The Republican lawmaker from Alexandria spent $112,479 from his campaign budget on direct mail.

Legislators overwhelmingly pump more campaign money into direct mail than into broadcast or print advertising combined. [Story by Dionne Waugh]



:: links ::

> Home page for MASC 375, the Legislative Reporting course
at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Mass Communications

> Hotlist of newspapers covering the General Assembly

> Other online resources for legislative reporters