Emails prove Hamilton’s conflict of interest

Republican Delegate Phil Hamilton said earlier that he couldn’t find any records related to his relationship with ODU. Perhaps he should have looked a little harder.

Both The Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot filed Freedom of Information requests with ODU. The results were startling: emails dating back to August 2006 show clearly that Hamilton discussed employment with the university prior to the budget amendment.  Faced with the emails, Hamilton resigned from the position, which paid him $40,000 per year.

That Hamilton could not recall having the email conversation is troubling. What is more troubling to me was the email address Hamilton used: not his legislative one but that of his other job with the Newport News Public Schools. (It is no wonder, then, that when he looked for correspondence, he didn’t find anything.) Doing official business through a non-official address leaves open the possibility that such discussions may never be uncovered.  ODU, like most large institutions, has an archive policy. What if the email conversation had taken place between two users of, say, Hotmail? Would those emails have been uncovered? Probably not.

For that reason, I would recommend that the General Assembly adopt a policy of doing official business only through official legislative email. (And, if they don’t have an archive policy, they need one.) Even if an alternative email address is used, a copy should be sent to the legislative address. That way, a record always exists.

For now, the question is what to do about Hamilton. I don’t think severing the relationship with ODU is enough. According to the Pilot:

The Virginia conflict of interest law bars lawmakers from accepting money for services performed within the scope of their legislative duties. Violation is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

I believe there is a strong case for finding Hamilton guilty of this misdemeanor. At the very least, he should be charged and have to defend himself. Let him make the case in front of a judge that the $40,000 per year he received since July 2007 – by my calculations, $86,666.84 in total for 26 months – was not in exchange for getting the Center the budget allocation.

Finally, the voters in the 93rd have a real choice this year. They can allow Hamilton to continue to represent them or they can go in a different direction and choose Robin Abbott, who has proposed an ethics reform plan to address these situations.

Photo courtesy of PilotOnline

8 thoughts on “Emails prove Hamilton’s conflict of interest

  1. viv,
    He might have a bigger problem than that. The e-mails show he broached the possibility of a job, and discussed his salary needs the day he put in the budget amendment. Democrats control the Department of Justice and people have been convicted of taking kickbacks on less evidence than this.

  2. Most readers know that you are in the Democratic camp 24/7, so there is no surprise at the zeal with which you attack Mr. Hamilton.

    I agree that Phil Hamilton has what appears to be a clear ethics violation and a probable criminal violation.

    The fault, if there is any must not be borne solely by Mr. Hamilton. ODU needs to roll a few heads for allowing at least the appearance of impropriety to occur.

    I recall how fast the Republicans turned on former Speaker of the House, Vance Wilkins because Vance fooled around with a woman on his staff and then paid her some rather ineffective hush money from his campaign funds.

    Mr. Hamilton has never been a favorite of the Country Club (corporate owned) Republican leadership, so we should expect them to ditch Hamilton even faster than they knifed Vance Wilkins in the back. There is simply no loyalty among the GOP these days. The rats are leaving that sinking ship in a big hurry.

    As for Robin Abbott, Most of us did not like the way Sarah Palin used her retarded child as a campaign prop, and it doesn’t look any better when Robin uses a similar campaign device. She has a strong political resume, but all of that talk of her child needing special care, makes a lot of voters think that perhaps she should focus her attention on that, rather ominous challenge, and leave the otherwise benign chore of law-making to someone with fewer demands on their time.

    As for your proposal for restricted use and increased archiving of email, although well intentioned, that maneuver simply forces most conversations off of any recorded media altogether. For example, many of Bush and Cheney’s minions left no email trail whatsoever, yet they pushed our nation to the edge of marshall law and suspended the Constitution.

    1. Attack? This is no attack. Heck, you even agree that Hamilton has violated the ethics law.

      The definition of right and wrong don’t change for me. Had this been a Democrat, I would have responded the same way.

      What Bush/Cheney did was wrong, so you want to let the GA off the hook? No way. If we elect ethical people, and continuously remind them of their ethical responsibilities (hey, we CPAs are required to take an ethics CPE course every year), then having them use official correspondence for official business wouldn’t force the conversations off recorded media. When people want to do the right thing – and the public holds them to that standard – such actions are less likely to occur.

      As for ODU – as sad as I am to see it, I believe that something besides rearranging the deck chairs should occur at my alma mater. I’ve been extremely disappointed to learn of the university’s complicitedness in this matter.

    2. Talk of Robin’s child is really in poor taste. She is merely telling you of what has happened in her life, her life story.
      And you take exception?
      Very sad for you.

  3. Nobody said to let the Assembly off the hook.

    The reality is, that if you create a system of eavesdropping on all telecommunications done by our government officials, they will simply go around those forms of communications.
    Then we will be left with archives of mundane nonsense with all of the official business leading up to a vote obscured in off channel communications.

    The most effective solution should include the routine archiving of official correspondence and no bans on, or spying on personal correspondence. Don’t forget; those back-channels are useful to our democratic process providing information flow between competing sides and to the Press.

    The real problem that you are trying to address is stopping pay-for-play politics here in the Commonwealth. That has been an ongoing form of corruption all over the United States, and copying the delegates’ blackberries, will only force them to make their deals off-line.

    What we need is to have a vigilant citizenry and Press, who will pay attention to budget lines and conflicts of interest, along with keeping an eye on political patronage and similar pay-offs.

    For example, while reading about the Hamilton case, I learned that his opponent, Robin Abbott, had been a long time assistant to Paul Trible and she magically qualified as one of the few Presidential Scholars at CNU; a rather obvious gift from Trible for past services rendered. Not necessarily illegal, but a form of patronage that leaves the appearance of impropriety. An auditor might ask why someone who works in the Presidents’ office would even be eligible for a scholars program designed to attract new talent to the college?

    That sort of information won’t usually see the light of day in the local papers, or on TV, but interested citizens find these factoids on the web and post them in various blogs.

    We can expect more details about the Hamilton case to emerge in the blogs, and it is my hope that bigger issues such as why Virginia allows unlimited corporate political contributions to our legislators to continue, or why we permit legislators to hold state, federal or municipal jobs while they are in the Assembly? If Hamilton and his fellow Delegates, as well as State Senators, been banned from state employment, then this seedy episode along with the appearance of impropriety would have never happened.

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