A state watchdog agency cleared the Virginia Tourism Corporation of wrongdoing this week in a complaint about the process the agency used to select a political firm utilized by Gov. Glenn Youngkin for a state contract.
Rita McClenny, Virginia Tourism Corporation’s executive director, bypassed standard agency guidance to seek competitive bids for large tourism projects in selecting Poolhouse to produce a tourism video featuring the governor. But because state law allowed her to do so, the state inspector general said in a letter Thursday, she complied with state procurement law.
The issue stems from the tourism corporation this spring handpicking Poolhouse to create a tourism video to air in Virginia airports and welcome centers. McClenny said she had the idea for the video and she alone opted to select Poolhouse, which had done Youngkin’s political videos and branding during his successful run for governor in 2021 and continues to work for his political arm as he considers a run for president in 2024.
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Democratic legislative leaders asked for an OSIG investigation in early October, alleging the contract was an example of taxpayer funds being used for political purposes to boost Youngkin’s image. Inspector General Michael Westfall announced in late October that OSIG would investigate certain aspects of the situation.
Update: Va. inspector general starts investigation of tourism ad contract for Youngkin political firm
OSIG appears to have narrowly focused on whether Virginia Tourism Corporation violated state procurement law and whether the dollar amount of the contract was unreasonable. A spokesman for Youngkin has said that he and his staff had no role in encouraging Virginia Tourism Corporation to select Poolhouse.
Poolhouse was granted a contract for $268,000.
Some senior officials in the Youngkin administration found out and didn’t like the optics of the governor’s political firm being handpicked for state work, and they asked Virginia Tourism Corporation to seek bids, according to public records. The tourism corporation then asked two other companies if they wanted to bid. The Martin Agency said the workload was too much on a tight deadline, and another company didn’t respond.
Records show Youngkin staff unhappy with tourism officials choosing governor’s political firm for ad
“The Authority is exempt from state procurement guidelines,” Westfall wrote in his letter Thursday to Commerce Secretary Caren Merrick.
“According to its own internal purchasing policies and procedures, the Welcome to Virginia video project qualified as a non-competitive award. Nevertheless, to exercise due diligence and ensure transparency in the procurement process, the Authority issued a request for bids.”
However, Westfall’s letter contained an error in the chronology of what happened.
He wrote that, due to a heavy workload, the tourism corporation’s agency of record — Martin — was unable to produce the video, so the tourism authority decided to hire Poolhouse.
That’s not what happened. McClenny selected Poolhouse, which began work on the project. It was only when some of the governor’s staff wanted bids that The Martin Agency said it couldn’t do the video.
Westfall’s letter also said the cost of the Poolhouse ad was not unreasonable, and the daily production cost was less than the average daily production cost of similar Virginia Tourism Corporation projects.
The inspector general serves at the pleasure of the governor.
Patrick Wilson is a reporter on the Lee Enterprises Public Service Team. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (804) 649-6061.