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Posted at 4:33 PM ET, 01/10/2011

Delegate will ask whether state grants to private groups is constitutional

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

A state delegate plans to ask Virginia Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli (R) to weigh in on the constitutionality of giving state funds to private charities, as has been proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) in a series of amendments to the two-year budget the General Assembly will consider when it convenes Wednesday.

Del. John M. O'Bannon III (R-Henrico) said he will make the inquiry on behalf of constituent Norman Leahy, who has been critical of the proposed spending on the blog Tertium Quids. Leahy believes contributions to private groups violates a section of the Virginia Constitution that giving tax dollars to charitable organizations not controlled by the state.

State lawmakers have for years gotten around the provision by classifying charities as "historical" or "cultural" agencies." McDonnell has proposed the state give $500,000 to Operation Smile, Hampton Roads-based charity that helps children with facial deformities, and another $500,000 to Virginia's food banks. He's also suggested they spend $1 million to promote OpSail 2012, a tourist event that will bring tall sailing ships to ports along the Eastern seaboard to commemorate the War of 1812.

As a legislator, O'Bannon has the legal authority to request advice from the attorney general. He said he does it sometimes on behalf of residents of his district who are not legally entitled to ask for legal opinions from the state's top lawyer. In this instance, O'Bannon said he does not have a desired outcome in mind.

If Cuccinelli responds that such grants violate the state's Constitution, O'Bannon said the General Assembly might consider eliminating them from the budget. Or, he noted, there could be a move to amend the Constitution. After all, many legislators believe giving aide to private organizations that do good works is an effective use of state money.

"There' s a process in both directions," he said.

"This is one of the beauties of our government," he added. "We have rules and statutes, and they're all there for a purpose. I think it's fair game to look at them and get an opinion."

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | January 10, 2011; 4:33 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Robert F. McDonnell, Rosalind Helderman  
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