WASHINGTON – With Gov. Bob McDonnell embroiled in an ethics scandal over gifts he and his family accepted, Virginia lawmakers are talking about how they think rules about gifts to politicians should be strengthened in the commonwealth.
“Obviously there are problems in disclosure systems and I think everybody would be looking forward to doing something to tighten them up. I’m not quite sure that going as far as banning gifts is going to be the right way to go,” Republican Delegate David Albo of Fairfax County told WTOP.
“Anytime you ban something, all you do is put it underground. I mean a perfect example is in Congress when they banned gifts, for example, you couldn’t take a dinner. But they did allow receptions, and so they took the food and put it on toothpicks and said that was okay,” Albo added.
“I think we have to look at the entire system, and it starts by dramatically reducing the size of gifts at a minimum. I think bans in some circumstances should be considered. I don’t think taking an elected official out for coffee or lunch crosses a threshold of ethical impropriety,” Delegate Rob Krupicka, D-Alexandria, told WTOP.
“We also need to take a hard look at gifts to family members, employment to family members. We need to take a look at the kind of system we have to investigate ethics violations when they occur. Right now, it’s not even clear what the ethical process is to review allegations against the governor. We don’t have a system in place to investigate that other than calling the entire General Assembly back together again,” Krupicka said.
“I think full disclosure has to be our minimum. The trust in our government is critical to our ability to serve the citizens of the commonwealth. And if that trust isn’t there, we’re not going to be able to be as effective as we need to be to make this state successful. I think full transparency has to be a basic building block of any kind of ethics reform,” Krupicka concluded.
Albo thinks the General Assembly will take action.
“We will certainly pass some types of laws to at least increase disclosure. But it’s not going to be an easy task,” he said.
Krupicka believes there will be support for modest changes, but more comprehensive reform will be difficult.
“My biggest worry is the longer we wait, and the more we put this off to think about it, to talk about it, to study it, the greater the chances are that nothing happens,” Krupicka said.
Both delegates spoke after McDonnell said on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” program that he would return all gifts he and his family have received from political donor and state businessman Jonnie Williams including a Rolex watch. He said he had already repaid $125,000 in loans and apologized for breaching the public’s trust.