Bipartisan Ethics Reform

Jan 8, 2014

Democratic and Republican leaders in the House of Delegates have announced a bipartisan package of reforms to Virginia’s ethics and disclosure laws.

Loopholes in current state policies came to light last year following news reports of gifts given to Governor McDonnell and his family by Star Scientific’s former CEO, Jonnie Williams.

The proposal aims to correct those deficiencies without an absolute ban on giving or receiving.  

State law requires officials to disclose gifts. But it does not cap the amount that may be received, nor does it require disclosure of gifts from personal friends or to family members.  Delegate Todd Gilbert said the bill would change that.

“Most immediately, I guess, a ban on the solicitation of gifts from lobbyists and individuals with business before the state by legislators and members of the executive branch. It also includes a $250 per item cap on what we’re calling ‘tangible gifts.’”

Gilbert said it also would require reporting of gifts to spouses and dependent children, but the definition of “personal friend” is still being refined.

“The idea would be to try and distinguish between those people with whom you have a longstanding relationship—perhaps even prior to your entry into public service—versus people who have an obvious interest in the outcome of any sort of legislation.”

The bill would create a state ethics commission to review disclosures, and advise and train officials.  It would also increase reporting requirements to twice a year and synchronize filing deadlines between officials and lobbyists.

Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment also attended the news conference to support the ethics reform package.  Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Donald McEachin did not endorse it, but said it provides a good template for future deliberations.