IRE/NICAR Tipsheet No. 478
Story Ideas from Virginia Elections
Lise Olsen lise@infi,net or 1-800-446-2004 ext. 2424
These ideas would work in any state...
1. Identify Big Corporate Players-who do they support and why?
Often you'll find that they're:
A. Lobbying for a legal change that would favor their industry
B. Heavily regulated by lawmakers
C. CEOs have political ties
2. Identify Interest Groups who Give Most:
If you code contribution by industry/profession, etc. you can identify two groups: The PACs that perennially bankroll incumbents and the interest groups
whose agenda clash-or coincide-with proposed laws. We found the Manufactured Housing Association to be particularly generous -and a spokesman was quick
to brag how the group was "thanking" lawmakers for relaxing restrictions on trailer parks.
3. Check Out the Vice PACs:
Gambling and liquor money is worth watching in any state. In states like Nevada, casino operators are picking up the expenses for most
candidates---including judges. And that money is creeping into Virginia. Though riverboat gambling looks like a dead issue, it could float again
someday. Liquor interests also have a lot to gain in minor modification of alcoholic beverage control (ABC) laws-like one that allowed supermarkets to
sell Lynchburg Lemonade alongside beer.
4. Doctors and Hospitals:
Medical interests about ongoing changes in the health care industry, and are major contributors to Virginia candidates. We found money from
chiropractors, anesthesiologists, proctologists-all protecting their interests
5. Look for Part Money:
Virginia elections have become increasingly partisan, and recent General Assembly races attracted tons a national party money from groups like
Gingrich's GOPAC. By looking at the money, we tracked how the parties :targeted: candidates and then dumped as much as $50k into their accounts in the
final days before the election.
6. Check for Jumbo Contributions:
Because there are no limits in Virginia-one of only eight states without them-millionaires can play Ross Perot-style politics in individual races.
Several big contributions prompted good stories in Virginia races-like the CEO of a slaughterhouse who gave $100,000 to the governor and whose company
faces big fines for pollution violations.
7. Identify local donors to statewide or national races-often they're people who avid the spotlight. These kinds of stories can provide insights into
local party structures, local players in big companies, local lobbyists, etc.
8. Don't forget to check expenses
In Virginia, candidates can spend the money for whatever they want-employ their dads in their races, reimburse their own companies for printing or
office space. One incumbent in Suffolk paid himself for a campaign office-even though he was unopposed. That wouldn't have been so bad, except that the
candidate uses the same office all year as a state senator, and receives a monthly allowance to pay for it from Virginia taxpayers.
9. Know the election law and report violations.
Two millionaire brothers broke the rules, forcing Governor Allen to return money they had tried to earmark for the defeat of Roanoke legislator. But
there are few teeth in other rules. Even the chairman of the state's Privileges and Elections committee didn't follow the disclosure rules-including
some he wrote.
10. Don't forget unopposed candidates' PACs, party PACs and other sources of "soft money." Governor Allen raised more than anyone else-even though he
was not up for reelection. Party PACs funneled millions into the Virginia races-don't forget to check their reports.