Constitutional conflict endangers funding for charities
It is not something that blogger Norman Leahy enjoyed doing, but in his mind it had to be done. The conservative blogger at Tertium Quids had long been annoyed at the way Virginia’s government routinely provided funding for non-profits and charities, despite the practice being unconstitutional.
Leahy blogged about the problem shortly after Governor Bob McDonnell announced plans to provide $1 million dollars to two different Virginia charities.
Here is an excerpt of what he wrote:
Individual and corporate giving to charity is a perfectly fine and laudable activity and these two organizations provide essential services to their clients. However, the state is specifically barred from supporting them with taxpayer dollars. And just to refresh our memories, here’s the section of the constitution in question:
“Nor shall the General Assembly make any like appropriation to any charitable institution which is not owned or controlled by the Commonwealth; the General Assembly may, however, make appropriations to nonsectarian institutions for the reform of youthful criminals and may also authorize counties, cities, or towns to make such appropriations to any charitable institution or association.” (Va. Constitution Va. Con. Art. 4 § 16 (1971))
Leahy asked Del. John O’Bannon to seek an opinion from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as to the practice and it turns out Cuccinelli agreed with Leahy.
“Because that’s what the constitution says,” Leahy told me during an interview on NBC12 First at 4. ” It’s rather unambiguous about it. The state can’t give money to nonprofits it doesn’t own or control.”
Leahy’s quest has forced Governor McDonnell to step back from plans to donate $500 thousand to the Virginia Food Bank and another $500 thousand to Operation Smile. In a statement to the Washington Post, the Governor’s office said the Governor “requests the General Assembly join him to ensure that all appropriations and pending budget amendments conform to the Constitution.”
To be fair, Governor McDonnell is not the first government official to attempt to wrangle state money for charitable projects. Every other year the effort has been met with success, until now. Leahy believes someone finally took the time to read the document that guides the government’s work.
“It raises an uncomfortable question is that probably because no one has really read it,” he said. “I’ve gone around with reporters, too. Has nobody read this section? It’s right there.”
In fact Leahy and Cuccinelli’s view was backed up by the man the originally crafted that section of the Virginia constitution, Dick Howard.
“He said Cuccinelli got it right. It’s right there,” said Leahy. “It’s of essentially it’s the saving the legislature from itself clause. Otherwise, everybody beats on the door, ‘we want some money’. Who in the legislature does not want to play Santa Claus?”
You can see my full interview with Norm Leahy below. A complete transcript from our conversation can be found on NBC12.com.