Press release: March 2, 2022

House Republicans block ban on personal use of campaign funds, ignoring ethics recommendations

Virginia remains out of step with nearly every other state and federal government on ban


Richmond — Virginia House Republicans have now twice blocked a ban on the personal use of campaign funds this session, which the Virginia Senate passed nearly unanimously last month on a 37-3 vote. Republicans in a House Privileges and Elections subcommittee killed the bipartisan legislation carried by both Democratic Senator John Bell (Senate Bill 463) and Republican Delegate Mike Cherry (House Bill 1296).

In response, Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore said, 

“There is nothing currently stopping a political candidate in Virginia from using unlimited campaign funds, for which there is no cap in Virginia, to purchase a vacation house or a swanky country club membership. It’s no wonder that public trust in our elected officials is at an all-time low. This legalization of grift is deeply embarrassing for Virginia — nearly every other state and the federal government ban the personal use of campaign funds.” 

The Privileges and Elections Subcommittee in the General Assembly’s lower chamber failed to advance Senate Bill 463 earlier this morning on a 5-3 party-line vote. The same committee blocked the House companion bill from Del. Cherry last month. Opposition from House Republicans remained strong despite Republican Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) speaking in support of the bill on the Senate floor.

Both bills defined “personal use” using the federal definition, known as the “irrespective test,” which states that any expense incurred that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign for office is deemed ineligible for use of campaign funds with the exception of caregiver costs. An ethics commission first recommended the measure in 2015 as part of the fallout from the corruption conviction of former Governor Robert F. McDonnell, and a bipartisan report released last year that was the result of a joint campaign finance committee process including multiple experts and stakeholders included the move in its suite of campaign finance reform recommendations. A ban on personal use of campaign funds also unanimously passed a Republican-controlled House in 2019 and a Democratic-controlled House in 2020 and 2021.