Democracy rests on the fundamental principle that elected officials will listen to and represent the people. As public officials, we’re elected to reform health care, to fix the criminal justice system, to create an economy that works for all Virginians and to generally improve the lives of our hard-working constituents. We are not elected to serve special interests, but some people in Richmond didn’t get the memo.
Let’s be honest: Virginia has well-earned a reputation for corrupt politics. Our elected officials vote on the floor of the House of Delegates and Senate while cashing checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars from special interests. We’ve had two governors investigated by the FBI in the past eight years for shady campaign contributions. For too long, special interests have dominated Richmond tuning out the voices of the people — far too often hurting everyday Virginians.
Special interests are the reason we overpay for prescription drugs. They’re the reason we forgo rehabilitation programs in favor of private, for-profit prisons. They’re the reason Dominion, the state’s largest state-regulated utility and the state’s largest corporate donor, has not been forced to return $500 million in over-earnings to Virginians, many of whom are struggling to pay their utility bills during the current economic and public health crises.
When politicians give these special interests a seat at the table, they kick the people out of the room.
My grandmother taught me at a young age, “if you have it, you have to give it.” We didn’t have much to give back then, but our house was always full with people from church who fell on hard times and needed support. I’ve carried this lesson with me, as a foster mom, a public defender and a legislator. It’s why I’m running for governor. I want to serve the people the best way I know how: by listening to them and taking action on their behalf.
Many Virginians are saying that money in politics is adding to the dysfunction of the government. People are concerned about the unlimited amounts of money being given to elected officials, and I understand why. When the candidates who are cozy with special interests win, all too often they let the rich and powerful continue to have an outsize influence on policy, leaving everyday Virginians behind. It’s time we listen to the people’s voice instead of drowning it out. It’s time for our commonwealth to truly uphold and embody the cornerstone of our country’s government, rejecting corruption and the politics of the past — now more than ever.
We should ban political contributions from corporations and limit contributions by individuals, PACs and party committees so influence lives with the people, not corporations. When we do this, we’ll be able to level the playing field and make sure everyday Virginians get their say. Large companies with massive financial resources should not get an elevated seat at the table, and the highest bidder should not be able to purchase our legislative process. This initiative alone would help to restore Virginians’ faith that the government will work for the people’s interests and not the special interests.
Too many shady political dealings are happening behind closed doors, out of view from everyday Virginians. And in Richmond, the revolving door swings hard and fast, incentivizing elected officials to impress special interests to secure a lucrative job when their term is up. We should modernize the definition of lobbyist and require candidates and elected officials to disclose who is working for them to finally pull back the curtain on who is influencing their decisions. And we should restrict legislators or state elected officials from lobbying for five years after leaving office. The commonwealth has one of the weakest “cooling off” periods. By extending this rule, we can slow the revolving door from the legislative chamber to lobbying.
We should tax excessive corporate lobbying and raise lobbyist registration fees, which then could boost the resources of legislative staff, helping legislators break from the influence of special interests. Many legislative positions are underfunded. And when lawmakers cannot rely on policy experts paid by and working for taxpayers to advise them on legislation, that vacuum is too often filled by lobbyists funded by wealthy special interests.
A plan to fight corruption in politics isn’t just important — it’s critical. It’s important to have a government that will carry out the will of the people — not just the will of the powerful.
With effective, actionable policies like the ones I have proposed, we will end corruption in Virginia and truly build a government of the people, by the people, for the people.