Virginia General Assembly weighs tangible, intangible gift limits

WASHINGTON — In the wake of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s
corruption convictions, the General Assembly appears ready to take action. But
exactly what will change is murky, as are the penalties an elected leader
might face for evading new rules.

A panel organized by the Associated Press in Richmond predicts the debate in
this winter’s General Assembly session will focus on what exceptions should be
made to new limits on both tangible and intangible gifts.

“I would expect there’s going to be not a ban, but that there will be a cap on
intangible gifts as well as tangible gifts,” lobbyist and former Democratic
delegate Whitt Clement says.

Intangible gifts, which could be capped at a specific dollar value for the
first time, include trips, sports tickets and expensive dinners.

The General Assembly moved to cap tangible gifts earlier in 2014 after
McDonnell was indicted.

Del. Rich Anderson (R-Prince William) would like to see Virginia law align “as
closely as possible” with federal law.

Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted on federal charges.

Anderson also supports state disclosure forms requiring more specifics on

“As far as I’m concerned, everything should be transparent. I find that pain
in public life comes, typically, to those who fail to practice transparency,”
he says.

The penalties for violations are also up in the air, with one bill suggesting
a $250 fine for a first offense and a misdemeanor conviction for a second.

Right now, no enforcement mechanism is directly tied to state
disclosures, and the ethics council created to advise elected leaders about
potential conflicts of interest has no funding to do its work.

That money could come during the upcoming session.

While there appears to be widespread agreement in Richmond that something
needs to be done, the panel indicated there are some lobbyists and others who
are quietly worried that the changes could shake things up too much.

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