It’s natural to focus on the personalities in a dispute, rather than the item of dispute itself, but little good ever comes of it. The current dispute over Mark Tate’s indictment for violations of campaign finance law is a good example of that. Tate’s belief that he’s both above the law and should establish our laws was too well-known even to merit the label “open secret.” I learned about it in a Senate committee meeting a year and a half ago, despite (still) not knowing what district he’s in or where it is, other than somewhere in the wilds of upstate Virginia.
We have an opportunity to have a much-needed discussion of the merits of our current method of enforcing campaign finance laws. Can we trust elected commonwealth’s attorneys to police the elected officials in their jurisdiction? Can we trust them to police themselves, as they are bizarrely required to do? The State Board of Elections has no powers of enforcement. If they receive a campaign finance disclosure that they know to be fraudulent, there is nothing that they can do about it. Virginia has a unusual campaign finance model, one without any sort of limits, with the tradeoff being that all contributions are public record. When candidates deliberately fail to make those contributions public, they have to be punished swiftly and harshly, with the punishment being more severe than the gains that were realized by the crime.
We need to collectively get to the real nut meat1 of this Tate issue, which is our lousy process of campaign finance enforcement, and encourage our representatives in Richmond to support the reform that’s necessary for us to maintain any faith in our system.