Gift Loopholes Big Enough For A McDonnell Sized Scandal

Yesterday afternoon, federal prosecutors indicted Bob and Maureen McDonnell on charges stemming from the Star Scientific gift scandal. These charges only underscore the need for real ethics reform in Richmond. This morning, ProgressVA Education Fund released a new report examining how effective proposed ethics reform legislation would be. The bottom line?

Thanks to massive loopholes, the leading ethics reform proposal (HB1211) would not have banned a single gift in 2012.

The need for real ethics reform legislation has only been amplified by former Governor McDonnell’s gift scandal and yesterday’s indictment. The House of Delegates will begin considering ethics reform bills this afternoon and the Senate will act soon. It’s vital you contact your representatives now and tell them ethics reform that leaves out the reform is unacceptable.

Demand real ethics reform from your representatives now!

Key findings from ProgressVA Education Fund’s report are listed below the fold.

Among the report’s findings:

  • The proposed $250 gift limit applies only to gifts from registered lobbyists. Registered lobbyists give very few, if any, gifts. Companies who employ lobbyists are instead the primary givers. No officials received a gift valued at over $250 from a lobbyist in 2012 so therefore no gifts would be banned.
  • The unnecessary distinction between tangible and intangible gifts similarly renders a $250 gift ban virtually meaningless. In 2012, only 18 gifts were identified as “tangible” out of a total of 756 gifts. Of those, only 8 breached the $250 threshold.
  • No gift received by Bob or Maureen McDonnell from Jonnie Williams or Star Scientific would be banned under HB1211 because Jonnie Williams was not a registered lobbyist.

“This bill is a sad excuse for ethics reform,” said ProgressVA Education Fund Executive Director Anna Scholl. “Rather than instituting strict gifts limits, HB1211 presents the misleading image of reform while preserving elected officials’ ability to accept unlimited gifts and favors.”

In contrast to the loopholes currently in HB1211, an actual $250 gift ban would have an impact on gifts to elected officials. If a $250 limit had been in effect in 2012, 30% of all gifts, valued at $295,099 would have been banned.

Unsurprisingly, a $100 gift ban would have a greater impact. Governor Terry McAuliffe has instituted a $100 gift ban on his administration and Senator Donald McEachin has proposed a similar limit in SB 648. In 2012, a $100 gift ban would have prohibited 67% of gifts, cumulatively worth $338,365.

ProgressVA Education Fund analyzed the impact the legislation would have had on all gifts to General Assembly members and statewide elected officials in 2012, the last year for which complete data is available. The results are astonishing.

ProgressVA Education Fund’s full report is available here.

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