RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s state government watchdog agency has cleared the state’s tourism office of wrongdoing when it gave Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s political ad-maker a state contract to produce a tourism video featuring the governor.
The Virginia Tourism Corp. selected Poolhouse last spring to produce the video, receiving a contract of $268,000.
Democratic legislative leaders raised concerns about the award after it became public and in October asked the Office of the State Inspector General to investigate.
The report, dated Thursday from Inspector General Michael Westfall, said that while Virginia Tourism CEO Rita McClenny bypassed standard agency guidance to seek competitive bids for large tourism projects, state law allowed her to do so, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Poolhouse has previously defended its participation in the project, and a Youngkin spokesman has said the governor and his staff had no role in encouraging the selection of Poolhouse.
According to public records previously obtained by the Times-Dispatch, some aides to Youngkin raised concerns about using Poolhouse through a single-sourced contract and asked the agency to seek additional bids. One other firm didn’t respond and another said it couldn’t meet the scope of work, records show.
The tourism office “is exempt from state procurement guidelines,” Westfall wrote on Thursday to state Commerce Secretary Caren Merrick, adding that the cost to complete the project “was reasonable based on similar projects completed by other vendors.”
The “Governor’s Welcome Project” ad has been shown at state welcome centers and in airports, according to Virginia Tourism. Poolhouse produces ads in part for Republican campaigns and political action committees. It worked on Youngkin’s winning campaign last year and continues to work with his PAC.
The inspector general, who serves at the pleasure of the governor, investigates waste and identifies inefficiencies in state government.