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It's Open Season for Campaign Fundraising Thanks to Mostly Online Special Session

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Lawmakers are now in a General Assembly unlike any other, partly because it's largely virtual. But, the laws around campaign fundraising also work differently.

During a normal General Assembly session, lawmakers are forbidden from taking campaign contributions while they’re meeting in Richmond. But this year, they're only partially in Richmond. And they no longer have to live with the prohibition against accepting campaign cash. That's because they're no longer really in session. They're now in a special session.

Republican Senator David Suetterlein of Roanoke voted against a procedural resolution outlining how the special session will work after raising concerns about this.

"Internet contributions can arrive in our inbox during active debate," he explained. "And any contribution that comes to us right now that's unlimited we would not have to disclose until July 15th."

Ethics watchdogs say this is taking a horrible system and making it much worse.

"I think it's pretty outrageous," says Shruti Shah at the Coalition for Integrity, which ranks Virginia as one of the five worst states for ethics and transparency laws.

"Just the fact that these lawmakers can't even go for what is it 14 or 15 days until the end of the session to stop fundraising highlights really the gravity of the issue," explains Shah.

Shah says she is pleased lawmakers are moving forward with a bill to ban candidates from using campaign cash for personal use and another bill creating a joint subcommittee to investigate the potential for some kind of campaign finance reform in the future.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.