PolitiFact VA: Newly in the majority, some House Republicans flip on campaign finance restrictions
Del. Israel O’Quinn
On banning personal use of campaign money
Three times in recent years, Del. Israel O’Quinn of Washington County has joined his fellow Republicans in the House of Delegates in unanimously supporting a bill that would have prohibited candidates from using campaign funds for personal expenses.
Each time, the bill died in the state Senate.
In a surprise move this year, House Republicans killed the bill in a subcommittee led by O’Quinn. The action, backed by O’Quinn, all but assures the prohibition has once again been quashed.
We examined O’Quinn’s voting through our Flip-O-Meter, which gauges if politicians have changed their positions on issues. O’Quinn’s office did not reply to three requests we made for comment.
From 2018 to 2021, O’Quinn cast six votes for bills that would have banned personal use of campaign money.
In 2018 and 2019, the bills swept through a subcommittee and committee of the Republican-controlled House without dissent. Both years, they were bundled in a block with other uncontested bills and unanimously passed without debate by the 100-member House.
The measures, however, were killed in Senate committees, where there was concern that there can be a thin line between personal and campaign expenses and a prohibition could entrap well-intentioned candidates.
In 2021, the House, then controlled by Democrats, again unanimously approved a ban in a block with other uncontested bills and sent it to the Senate. This time, the measure was passed by that chamber’s Privileges and Elections Committee but faced roadblocks on the Senate floor, where some members said the bill needed more specificity. Instead of voting on the legislation, the Senate agreed to form a panel with the House to work out concerns.
What resulted were three identical bills - two introduced in the House this year and one in the Senate.
The bills said, “a contribution is considered to have been converted to personal use if the contribution, in whole or in part, is used to fulfill any commitment, obligation or expense that would exist irrespective of the person's seeking, holding or maintaining public office.”
Examples of personal use, according to the bills, are mortgages and rents, automobile costs, vacations and country club memberships. The bills carved out an exception for a candidate’s childcare costs “that are incurred as a direct result of campaign activity.”
The House bills were defeated Feb. 2 on a partisan 5-3 vote in a House subcommittee chaired by O’Quinn.
In addition to O’Quinn, the vote was a clear reversal for Del. Bob Bloxom Jr., R-Accomack, who voted for the ban four times over the previous four years. Bloxom’s office, like O’Quinn’s, did not reply to our requests for an explanation.
The other three Republicans on the subcommittee are freshmen who were voting on the ban for the first time.
On Feb. 3, Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, said on the House floor that the subcommittee vote “was a complete reversal…of a position Republicans had embraced over the last several sessions.”
Simon said House Republicans in the past had a “free pass” in supporting the ban because they knew it would die in the Senate. He said there’s growing momentum in the Senate for the ban this year and if the House GOP supported the bill “it might actually become law.”
The bill’s fate in the Senate is uncertain, however. It passed the chamber’s Privileges and Elections Committee on a 9-6 vote Tuesday and still faces review from the Finance and Appropriations Committee before it can advance to the Senate floor.
If the bill does pass the Senate, it’s then likely to be routed through O’Quinn’s unfriendly House subcommittee.
Six times over the previous four years, O’Quinn voted for bills that would have banned using campaign money for personal expenses. The measures unanimously passed the House and died in the Senate.
This year, O’Quinn led four fellow Republicans who formed a majority on a House subcommittee that voted to kill a bill that would have banned the practice.
We rate O’Quinn’s vote a Full Flop.
Legislative Information Service, HB122, 2018 session
LIS, HB1617, 2019 session
LIS, HB1952, 2021 session
LIS, HB973, HB1296, SB463, 2022 session
Del. Marcus Simon, House floor speech, Feb. 3, 2022 (1:09:23 p.m.)