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The lieutenant governor wants a ban of gifts in excess of $250 in total each calendar year, among other ideas.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling on Tuesday proposed sweeping changes to the state’s ethics laws, including a $250 limit on gifts, while disagreement lingered over whether the governor should call state lawmakers into a special session to tackle reforms.
Republican leaders in the House of Delegates said Tuesday that they want to take up disclosure reform during the regularly scheduled legislative session in January and not in a special session, as Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli prefers.
That aligns the House GOP leadership with Gov. Bob McDonnell. A spokesman for McDonnell says the governor is formulating his own disclosure proposals for consideration in the regular session in January — the month he leaves office.
Cuccinelli said Tuesday that he is disappointed that McDonnell and others disagree with his approach. Cuccinelli has accepted $18,000 in gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, whose relationship with McDonnell is the subject of state and federal scrutiny.
Cuccinelli on Monday urged the governor to call an immediate special session to deal with ethics reform.
Bolling, meanwhile, on Tuesday floated his ethics proposals through his political operation, the Virginia Mainstream Project.
He wants a ban of gifts in excess of $250 in total each calendar year; expanded gift reporting; additional disclosure on board memberships, income, investments and loans; and a ban on using campaign funds for personal use.
He also proposes blocking legislators who are attorneys from representing clients before state agencies, banning law firms assigned business by the attorney general from giving political donations or gifts to the attorney general or staff.
Finally, he wants to create an ethics review commission to vet complaints against elected officials and issue advisory opinions on “ethics related issues.”
Talk of changing the state’s weak disclosure laws has come amid a gifts scandal dogging McDonnell in the final months of his term.
Virginia’s current rules are based on disclosure rather than a gift limit. Office holders must disclose any gift worth more than $50, but they are not required to disclose gifts that come from a friend or are presented to a member of the office holder’s family.
“Over the past few months, a series of unfortunate events have revealed to us several deficiencies in Virginia’s current ethics laws,” Bolling said in a statement. “As a result, the confidence of the people of Virginia in their state government has been eroded. In order to begin the process of restoring this confidence, we need to take immediate action to strengthen Virginia’s ethics laws.”
He called on candidates on the statewide ballot as well as the General Assembly to support the ideas and pressed the gubernatorial candidates to implement the proposals through executive order until the legislature can act.
Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for governor, praised Bolling’s proposals and said he would build off them if he is elected in November.
McAuliffe said that while he agrees with the proposal to ban aggregate annual gifts exceeding $250, “I have also supported a total ban on individual gifts over $100. Even if the legislature does not pass my proposal, I will use an executive order to impose it on myself.”
In April, Cuccinelli presented ethics proposals, including a 10-day mandatory reporting period for gifts exceeding $500 for any state official; simplified forms for filing; and the closing of the “family loophole” that exempts from reporting gifts that are given to immediate family members.
On July 10, he appeared to go further, suggesting a cap on gifts.
On Tuesday, in a joint statement from leadership in the GOP-dominated House of Delegates, where all 100 seats are up for election this November, the delegates say they agree with McDonnell and Cuccinelli that steps need to be taken to reform the state’s disclosure and transparency laws, but it’s best to wait.
“These are very complicated and serious issues that deserve our full and undivided attention. Addressing them during a regular session will allow us to carefully consider each proposal, gather input and feedback, and move forward in a responsible manner.”
The statement was sent from Speaker of the House Bill Howell, R-Stafford County, Majority Leader Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights and the GOP caucus chairman and majority whip.
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