To really figure out what was going on at The Homestead retreat last week between Democratic legislators and Richmond lobbyists, it took a lot more than just attending the event in person. After all, it's not as if briefcases full of money were being delivered in the lobby- the event itself looked as pleasant as any individual event might look elsewhere, especially one held in such an ornate setting. To really figure out what was going on it takes a little research after the event is over- and then things become much more clear.
Posted on a large board near the event registration table was a list of sponsors of the retreat. The highest level was called the "Co-Chairs", and included three different groups. The groups were "Kemper Consulting", "Vectre Corp." and the "Virginia Association of Realtors". What the realtors issues are should be obvious, but many of you may have never heard of Kemper Consulting or Vectre Corp. Today, I'm going to focus on Kemper- tomorrow on Vectre- so you can learn a little more about the people attending this event.
Kemper Consulting bills itself on its website as this: "Kemper Consulting is a full-service government relations firm that specializes in providing constant and individualized attention to its public and private sector clients. The firm is comprised of veteran lobbyists, former senior legislators, former senior members of recent administrations, and experienced and highly recognized lawyers and consultants. With over seventy years of combined lobbying experience and over fourteen years of combined legislative experience, our principals bring a wealth of knowledge to every client issue. We are creative, energetic, and proactive partners with our clients in achieving success." It's worth noting that the fourteen years of "combined legislative experience" is all from former Delegate Glenn Croshaw, who served from 1985 until his defeat in 1999 by Terrie Suit. The firm's President is Kay Kemper.
Kemper plays the Richmond game of supporting incumbents very transparently. For example, in 2007, Kemper donated $0 of the over $50,000 they spent before the election to any challenger or non-incumbent. After election day, but before the General Assembly started its session in January, Kemper found time to send checks to most of the non-incumbents who were successful in November. Let's call it "introduction money". In 2009 the same pattern held with Kemper donating $0 of the over $50,000 they spent before election day to non-incumbents. But once again after election day, but before the start of the General Assembly, Kemper sent checks to those non-incumbents they missed who won in November. (Those links are not complete as they don't yet show the first two weeks of January for which donations will be released on the reports due this week to the State Board of Elections). In short- while you might think "pay to play" is something that lobbyists would be embarrassed of- Kemper Consulting embraces it with gusto by being one of the first to contribute to your re-election campaign after you've already been elected. "Welcome to Richmond!"
While "pay to play" might give the rest of us a gross feeling, it isn't illegal- so long as the "play" is access and friendship instead of specific goods and "services" from the legislators. In fact, if that's all I found, I wouldn't be writing this piece.
Kemper currently is registered to lobby for 41 different clients. A majority of these clients are major corporations or trade associations with their own large donor history. For example, Kemper lobbies for VA Uranium, Flour Corp, Owens-Illinois, and Davita among others- all of whom maintain their own donor history. None of these entities have anything to hide making donations- which makes one wonder where Kemper is coming up with the almost one-third of a million dollars they have donated in the last few years. This is where the story gets very interesting.
Kemper also lobbies for a number of clients that do not make political contributions. Many of these are clients are local governments or other taxpayer funded entities. For example, Kemper lobbies for the City of Norfolk and the City of Virginia Beach Public Schools in the local government category, but also lobbies for things like the Hampton Roads Transit Authority, the Virginia Association of Counties, Virginia Municipal League, and other entities that are funded by taxpayers through member dues. Their members of course are local governments.
So we now know that the account from Kemper making these political contributions has taxpayer money floating around in it. In addition, we know that many of the other clients of this lobbying shop have their own donations they make directly to candidates- making them seem unlikely to want to donate through their lobbying firm also. That leads us to one of three scenarios going on here:
Scenario A) Local governments are hiring lobbying firms, and have no idea that the taxpayer dollars they are sending those firms are being used for political donations.
Scenario B) Local governments know they can not donate to legislators directly to curry favor, so they hire lobbyists to "lobby" them, knowing that some of the money will then be used to donate to those legislators campaign accounts.
Scenario C) Local government money is so hopelessly intermingled with other money in these lobbyist bank accounts that it's impossible to know which scenario is closer to the truth.
It's worth noting that filing an LLC in Virginia only costs $100 and can be completed in just a few business days. If Kemper Consulting wanted to have a separate entity that lobbied for things funded by tax dollars so that the money would not be intermingled they could easily do so. But for some reason they have chosen not to do that. Why?
In hopes of getting some answers before I posted this, I called Ms. Kemper yesterday for a comment on this story. She didn't call back.