Cold Fusion – Politics Post U.S. v McDonnell Edition

Politics in Virginia changed forever after Bob and Maureen McDonnell were found guilty in federal court on September 4th and if you think the changes are all good, I would offer a Jimmy Buffett inspired “slightly different point of view.”

Many will default to the wrong conclusion that the verdict will “clean things up” in politics. “See! What they did was wrong!” “They all do it!”

The verdict reached will not clean things up. You will see much less transparency. Much less disclosure. Fewer decisions being made in public.

But first – Do they all do it? That’s an important question.

In Virginia, yes they all do it – they (the elected officials) all, according to the law, fill out financial disclosure and gift receiving forms that they sign attesting, to the best of their knowledge, whether or not what they just signed was true. They also fill out, as required by law, campaign finance reports that disclose money received and spent by their campaigns.

Those disclosures all set by the laws of the Commonwealth. If you break one of those laws, penalties will be handed down. Some are serious, but the most severe, and expensive, will be in the political arena.

Bad headlines are expensive. Very expensive.

As you run this course of thought I am beginning to describe, understand one very important reality here – the political mind factored all of what I describe in a nano second.

Bob McDonnell was, and is, to many of his colleagues a Boy Scout who followed Virginia law to the letter. He never gave, nor did the Commonwealth, anything to Johnnie Williams. And that’s the deal in Virginia. You can take gifts, loans, trips – whatever – as long as you disclose it – and give nothing in return. No quo. Were boundaries crossed? Clearly.

The problem is that federal law apparently trumps that. Who knew?

So, what would you do as a result?

You dead pull stop. You don’t talk in public. You don’t email. You don’t text.

You have meetings behind closed doors. Small meetings. Meetings that are not publicly scheduled and subject to Freedom of Information Act disclosure.

Decisions will be made. Deals done.

Remember the Affordable Care Act? Wasn’t even read. Almost 3,000 pages of federal law – unread. Not even skimmed. But they sure were written, weren’t they?  Remember all of those floor amendments? The House and Senate passing different versions? Sending the legislation finally to a Committee of Conference to smooth out the details? SO much open debate!

Yeah, didn’t happen. Why? Doesn’t matter…that’s the federal system which now operates in Virginia.

And, oh by the way, every other one of these States United.

**

Phone rings – “Hello? Hey what’s up? Nothing much…just about to head over to grab a bite to eat.”

“Well, maybe I’ll see you there”

“Maybe.”

Restaurant scene follows.

“Ready for Thanksgiving?”

“Yeah. You?”

“I guess. Hey, I think we should take X billions of dollars over the next 10 years from the General Fund and pay down some more debt.”

“Ok. How about we modify the funding formulas for K-12 to reflect population instead of the Composite Index. My teachers need more money. Ok?”

“Yeah, I think we can get there. Want to announce the deal before or after Session starts?”

“Let’s just pass it out on the first day – would be great to have an agreement on the first day. That’ll quiet things down a bit.”

“Great, I’ll have staff draw it up.”

“Perfect. And I’ll get the press releases ready. Bipartisanship…fiscally sound…AAA bond rating secured…blah blah blah.”

“Don’t forget civility.”

“Sorry, forgot my meds.”

Waitress approaches.

“Good. I’m going with the chicken caesar, dressing on the side.”

“Sounds good. Make that two.”

Waitress asks, “Separate checks?”

“You take cash, right?”

Waitress and single mother of two, “Oh yeah, the owner loves cash. He’s always saying Cash is King.”

Both patrons laugh together “He’s right!”

Cue the laugh track.

No, they all don’t do it. In fact, the vast majority of  “them” are good, decent, and honorable people who could become less so when federal laws, most didn’t know even existed, now are applied to them.

I guarantee you that almost 99% of elected officials in the country  – and there are over 500,000 of “them” – had never even heard of the Honest Services Act.

If there is any good that can come out of this it will be that legislators might look at the laws they write, amend, and re-write and ask themselves – “Is it just, is it right, is it fair to apply laws to the people we represent who have no clue as to what they actually are?”

Bob McDonnell and I had a conversation around that very question back in March over a couple of burgers. He was truly authentic in his thoughts when he said “You can’t imagine what it’s like to try to defend yourself against the weight of the federal government.”

I replied, “Now, imagine what it would be like if you were poor, black, or battling an addiction…”

Bob said, “Can’t imagine what someone would do.”

“Give up?” Bob nodded in agreement.

Ask yourself this question, if the federal government – IRS, FDA, EPA, hell…the Post Office, shows up at your door today asking if you are there, what do you reply?

A) Nope.

B) Take a message?

C) Hide

D) Call your attorney.

You better choose E) All of the Above.

If you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Saxman

About Chris Saxman

Father of four, small business leader, retired politician, and Executive Committee member and former Chairman of an international trade association, Chris Saxman delivers strategy and insight as a political coach and keynote speaker. Contact Chris.

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