WASHINGTON – With ethics issues looming over lawmakers in Richmond as former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell appeals his corruption convictions, current Gov. Terry McAuliffe is reviewing proposals to place tighter limits on gifts and to restrict the use of campaign funds.
McAuliffe formed a commission by to find ways to resolve issues exposed by the McDonnell conviction and to boost trust in government. This week, the group sent McAuliffe its sent final recommendations.
“The idea of taking [lawmakers’] office space, combining that with their personal salary, because what happens [is] a lot of members use their office space and are able to put that money in their own pocket. Just for full transparency – and it’s fine, I mean it’s legal to do that – I think we ought to know what we’re paying our elected officials,” McAuliffe said.
He would not specify which bills he would introduce on the recommendations addressed by the commission, but said they would be “dealing with all the issues.”
The commission’s recommendations include new limits to keep campaign accounts from being used as personal slush funds, new oversight for gifts or loans to public officials and their immediate families from so-called “personal friends,” and an expansion of the $100 cap on gifts passed in 2015 to include gifts from people other than lobbyists and principals of lobbying firms.
McAuliffe says the $100 total cap on gifts from lobbyists was the most important thing done on the ethics front in last year’s bill. It only applies to gifts worth $50 or more.
He said he doesn’t think there will be any campaign finance reforms this year.
Virginia allows unlimited donations to state political campaigns that can be used for virtually any purpose.
The commission’s recommendations also include providing state funding for the transition to a new governor, which is the point at which prosecutors argued Maureen McDonnell was first offered a fancy dress by Jonnie Williams, the man who eventually got immunity to testify that he had paid for the prestige of the governor’s office.
Until the McDonnells were charged with corruption, the state permitted unlimited gifts to public officials as long as they were reported. There was, and remains, an exception to gift and reporting rules for “personal friends.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to discuss McDonnell’s case on Jan. 8. Typically, a decision on whether to the court will hear a case would be announced the following Monday. If the court does decide to hear the appeal, a decision on whether McDonnell will go to prison or get a new trial could be announced by June.
The commission’s full report is available here.