Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has ruled that budget amendments proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell that would funnel state money to charities are unconstitutional. McDonnell proposed appropriating $500,000 each for the Federation of Virginia Food Banks and the Norfolk-based Operation Smile, a group that provides free surgeries to children with cleft lip and other facial deformities, in the state's current two-year budget.

But the Virginia Constitution bars the General Assembly from directly appropriating funds to non-state charities, though it can funnel the money to charities through local government groups.

Cuccinelli, in response to an inquiry from Del. John O'Bannon, R-Henrico, noted appropriations like those sought by McDonnell have been enacted before, including funds for organizations like SERVE Homeless Shelter and the Special Olympics.

"The question is not whether these proposed amendments serve noble purposes and that they would provide needed relief - unquestionably, they are and they would," Cuccinelli wrote. "The question is one of fidelity to the text of our Constitution. And where the Constitution commands or forbids, the government must obey."

Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for McDonnell, said the governor's office would review the opinion before offering specific comment.

"However, while that review process is underway, the governor requests the General Assembly join him to ensure that all appropriations and pending budget amendments conform to the Constitution," he said.