A little while ago Supervisor Peter Candland surprised the Board of Supervisors with a proposal to eliminate supervisor’s political slush funds. Initially, I thought it might be a bit of a fight to get supervisors to give up the pots of taxpayer money they use to purchase political goodwill, but is increasingly looking like there’s going to be a stampede of them rushing to rescue their reputations by getting on the right side of this issue. Embarrassment as a political weapon is still a very powerful thing. Thinly-veiled threats work pretty well, also.
These slush funds, which are comprised of the leftover money annually allotted to each supervisor to maintain their district offices, carry over from year to year and can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It gets doled out, usually in small contributions, to various charities, schools and other interests where supervisors can obtain personal recognition for their support. Several examples coming to light in recent days demonstrate the enormous potential for abuse, which has to start raising questions about whether some supervisors might face criminal indictments as a result of their diversion of taxpayer dollars into personal campaign activities.
Bob Pugh recently wrote to the board mentioning this incident, which comes dangerously close to the line of criminal activity:
An excellent example of this unethical practice is the recent Boys and Girls Club Steak n Stake Dinner. This is a fine organization worthy of support as a community partner. However, three members of the Board used discretionary funds (the taxpayers’ money) to purchase $1,000 table sponsorships under their own names. I watched the video of the event on the “Potomac News” website and saw those three Supervisors recognized as donors, and saw family members, friends and supporters of those Supervisors in attendance. Other elected officials were present at the dinner who did not use taxpayer funds to gain personal recognition in such a manner.
The Sherrif of Nottingham blog points out another incident where Supervisor Frank Principi proposed spending $1,550 of taxpayer funds to effectively buy campaign advertisements for each of the members of the board on the grounds of the Potomac Community Library.
To quote the Library Foundation, the “brick patio offers a lovely way to elegantly display your family name, remember a loved one or promote the name of your business on an engraved brick.”
So what exactly was going through the minds of the individual Supervisors when they were evaluating the merit of this expenditure of taxpayer funds?
Does the phrase “promote the name of your business on an engraved brick” come to mind.
Of course, the only business would be to promote themselves for reelection.
This activity quite conceivably violates a number of civil and criminal provisions of the Virginia Code in addition to being a shocking breach of ethics. As the contrast here as consolidated into a nearly binary black-and-white picture, Delegates Scott Lingamfelter and Rich Anderson are issuing public statements opposing the existence of these funds along with a declared intent to make them unlawful during the next session of the General Assembly. In the face of such widespread opposition to these funds, it is increasingly unlikely that any of the supervisors will have the political tone-deafness to vote to sustain them — not even John Jenkins.
“I don’t think it’s right to provide politicians with money that they can hand out or expend on just about anything they want”, said Lingamfelter. “While I know they have to put each item before the board for a vote, most times this is just a formality. A more disciplined approach is required”, he added.
Lingamfelter does not think there is any legal wrong-doing associated with what has transpired thus far in Prince William but feels that the current system is inappropriate. “Frankly, the current system smells bad”, said Lingamfelter. (emphasis added)
Notice the subtle warning here? No one had been mentioning violations of the law before, but now in a press release Lingamfelter is answering a new, previously unasked question that he decided was important to raise, even if no one else was. Why even bring it up? The rather simple answer here is to remind the members of the Board of Supervisors that if they don’t get their act together on this, there’s likely going to be an investigation coming up to determine if there’s enough evidence to issue an indictment. Drop the funds now, and the issue becomes moot. Vote to keep these funds, and the next party interested in all this is going to be some Commonwealth’s Attorney from downstate on a mission to figure out where the stink is coming from.
Still, it’s well worth your time to appear at the next Board meeting this Tuesday afternoon. Our elected officials always benefit when constituents demonstrate that they’re watching what’s going on. This has only lasted as long as it has, and become so outrageously bad, because our elected officials didn’t think the public was paying attention, or didn’t care enough about it to have the issue influence their vote. That has clearly changed, and the opportunity for us all to get better government is the certain result.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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