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State lawmakers may finally rein in Virginia's loose campaign spending laws

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., waits for the start of a session in the House chamber on Jan. 6.
Alex Brandon
Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., waits for the start of a session in the House chamber on Jan. 6.

Former Congressman George Santos became a poster child for unethical campaign spending in Washington. Now, members of the General Assembly are crafting legislation to guard against campaign finance fraud.

Botox treatments and casino spending sprees are totally legal under Virginia campaign finance laws, which have almost no limits on how to spend campaign cash. That's why Democratic Senator Jennifer Boysko of Herndon says Virginia should outlaw candidates using campaign money the way former Congressman George Santos did.

"The scary thing for me is that most of the things that he did would have been legal in Virginia under our current allowances for using our campaign funds," says Boysko.

Republican Senator Mark Peake of Lynchburg voted for the bill, although he said he had not heard of any Santos-style shenanigans in Virginia.

"I am not aware of any member of the Virginia General Assembly, House or Senate who has conducted themselves in any manner whatsoever in comparison to George Santos or really in a fraudulent manner," Peake says.

Campaign finance documents often obscure how money from donors is used. So, Virginia might not currently have anyone making tabloid headlines, but Boysko says it’s not worth the risk.

"And I think that this is a perfect time for us to stand in solidarity to say, ‘Not here in Virginia. Not now, not any way,’" the Senator says.

Boysko's bill passed the Senate on a wide bipartisan majority; only four Republicans voting against it. A similar version is currently making its way through the House.

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

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.