RICHMOND, Virginia — A House committee has punted on a proposal to limit the personal use of campaign funds by Virginia politicians, a top ethics priority this legislative session of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
The GOP-controlled panel voted Thursday to put off until next year a vote on legislation barring the politicians from using campaign funds for personal benefit with a promise to study the issue further.
Virginia has one of the least restrictive campaign finance systems in the country, and lawmakers are only barred from using campaign funds for personal use when they close out their accounts.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic Del. Marcus Simon, said it was "embarrassing" that state law didn't already prohibit the personal use of campaign funds like most other states and the federal government.
"When I talk to people on the campaign trail about this, the sort of universal response is, 'you mean this isn't already illegal?'" said Simon.
An ethics commission made up of former lawmakers and others impaneled by McAuliffe recommended last year that lawmakers prohibit the use of personal use of campaign funds, and the governor voiced his support for Simon's bill during the State of Commonwealth speech last month.
But many lawmakers have said they need wide latitude to use campaign funds because they are used to subsidize the costs of performing their official duties. Republicans on the panel Thursday expressed skepticism of the need for Simon's bill, noting that lawmakers already have to disclose their spending to the public.
"These are not government funds, these are private funds," said GOP Del. Mark Cole. "Why should the government step into basically what is a private transaction?"
After the hearing, Simon said he feared Republicans voted to postpone real action on the bill as a way of defeating it quietly.
"Who wants to be on the record as killing a bill that seems so obvious to so many of us," Simon said. "One of the things you learn down here is there's a thousand ways to kill a bill."