Even for university posts, making donors political appointees is business as usual


DONORS AS APPOINTEES: Gov. Terry McAuliffe, like Bob McDonnell before him, has appointed some generous donors to posts.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Some of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s latest appointments to posts at Virginia’s prestigious public universities have also donated generously to his political campaign — up to $130,000, in one case.

Of McAuliffe’s 65 appointees to university and college governing boards, about 17 percent of them had contributed a substantial sum to his campaign, and two more — former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms — broke ranks with Republicans to support McAuliffe’s campaign.

That’s nothing new, really. Many of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s university appointees were also generous donors. Appointing donors to political positions — positions that aren’t subject to General Assembly approval — is business as usual.

Peter Quist, a research director with the Montana-based National Institute on Money in State Politics, said appointments should be scrutinized on a case-by-case basis. After all, donors can be highly qualified for their posts.

“The practice of appointing major contributors to politically appointed positions, whether or not that’s good or bad really depends on a case-by-case scenario of how qualified that person is for the position,” Quist told Watchdog.org.

In a state where the governor wields more political power than perhaps anywhere else in the nation, however, it isn’t easy to stay on top of scrutinizing the thousands of political appointments each term.

The sudden firing and rehiring of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan by that university’s criticized governing board fresh in many minds, Virginians began to pay a little more attention to who is really running the state’s 15, four-year higher ed institutions.

McAuliffe’s spokesman, Brian Coy, told the Daily Progress that donors weren’t a factor in the governor’s decision on UVA governing members.

“The governor’s selections for these and all appointments are based on one standard: who is the best person for the job?” Coy told the Charlottesville newspaper in an email. “These leaders have the experience and vision to help lead Virginia’s higher education system forward to better prepare Virginia students to compete in a global economy.”

Here are the new college and university appointees who donated to McAuliffe’s campaign efforts, according to a Watchdog.org analysis of data provided by the Virginia Public Access Project.

University of Virginia

Barbara J. Fried, $130,000 to campaign

Frank Maxwell “Rusty” Conner III, $52,338 to campaign, $10,000 to inaugural committee

College of William and Mary

Christopher M. Little, $35,000 to campaign

Lisa Roday, $10,000 to campaign

George Mason University

Claire Dwoskin, $16,000 to campaign

Jon Peterson, $10,000 to campaign

James Madison University

Edward Rice, $65,000 to campaign, plus $160,00 to VA Democratic Party

Old Dominion University

Carlton Bennett, $22,556 to campaign

Virginia Commonwealth University

William Ginther, $4,500 to campaign and inaugural committee

Alexander B. McMurtie, Jr. $15,200 to campaign

Virginia Military Institute

Conrad M. Hall, $5,000 to gubernatorial campaign

State Board for Community Colleges

Michael Schewel, $5,300 to campaign

Henry D. Light, $8,500 to campaign

— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org, and can be reached at kwatson@watchdog.org, or on Twitter @kathrynw5.