Inspector general says tourism ad didn't violate procurement laws
This story has been updated to include comment from Del. Don Scott and a Youngkin spokesperson.
A $268,000 contract for a tourism video featuring Gov. Glenn Youngkin and shot by his preferred campaign ad agency didn’t violate state laws on procurement or wasteful spending, according to an investigation released Friday by Inspector General Michael Westfall.
In a letter addressed to Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick, Westfall said the ad firm Poolhouse’s contract didn’t constitute wasteful spending because its shooting rate of roughly $38,000 a day was less than half the industry’s standard amount.
Westfall’s investigation also determined the Virginia Tourism Corporation, which commissioned the video, didn’t violate state procurement rules because it isn’t subject to them under state law.
“According to its own internal purchasing policies and procedures, the ‘Welcome to Virginia' video project qualified as a non-competitive award,” Westfall wrote in the letter. “Nevertheless, to exercise due diligence and ensure transparency in the procurement process, the Authority issued a request for bids.”
The resulting video features a smiling Youngkin beckoning visitors to Virginia. It has been playing at Virginia rest stops and airports since Labor Day weekend.
The project came out of a March meeting between VTC President Rita McClenny and Youngkin, McClenny said in an October interview with VPM News. State tourism officials reached out to Poolhouse later that month and signed a no-bid contract in early April, overriding internal procurement rules that ask for multiple bids for projects of that magnitude. McClenny said she had authority under state law to override those rules on a case-by-case basis.
McClenny said the ad firm’s “familiarity” with the governor’s style and a rush to get the video produced ahead of the summer travel season were the main drivers in selecting Poolhouse. VTC did not initially reach out to its flagship Martin Agency about the project, a spokesperson for the agency told VPM News.
Westfall’s report states that the governor’s office “expressed concern about the appearance of the lack of transparency in the procurement process,” and VTC ultimately reached out to two additional ad agencies.
Neither responded, and Poolhouse was awarded the contract.
Two top Virginia Democrats in the General Assembly asked Westfall to investigate after the process was publicized in VPM News, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and other local media.
Del. Don Scott (D-Portsmouth), the top Democrat in Virginia’s House of Delegates, noted in a tweet that Westfall serves at the pleasure of the governor. He said the investigation “answered none of the questions we asked about undue influence from @GovernorVA for giving over 250k to his political consultant.”
Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in an email the report “puts to rest the lies General Assembly Democrats spread about the governor during his first year in office.”
Some Democrats have questioned whether VTC should continue to be exempt from state procurement rules. Public records obtained by VPM News show it has signed over 125 no-bid contracts during the past five years.