Ken Cuccinelli isn't finding many takers for his idea to
fast-track ethics reform even though there's widespread support for the
overarching concept in the wake of a gift scandal involving Gov. Bob McDonnell
and his family.
House Republican leaders Tuesday voiced resistance to the attorney general's proposal for a General Assembly special session to pursue such law changes. They prefer leaving that work for January, when the legislature reconvenes.
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling unveiled his own blueprint Tuesday to overhaul ethics rules. It would impose tighter gift limits for elected officials and their families, more rigorous financial disclosure standards, and restrictions on how campaign cash is spent, among other measures to reduce potential conflicts of interest.
On Monday, Cuccinelli urged McDonnell to bring lawmakers back to Richmond to take up ethics in a special session.
"I think the longer we let this go, the more difficult it is for Virginians to achieve the level of faith in their government that I think they're accustomed to," said Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor.
Health supplement company Star Scientific Inc. and its chief executive, Jonnie Williams Sr., are key figures in the controversy dogging McDonnell and drawing attention from state and federal investigators. Williams has given the governor and his family thousands in monetary gifts, loans and luxury items, and first lady Maureen McDonnell has promoted an anti-inflammatory product from Star.
Cuccinelli also benefited from Williams' largesse -- he's received more than $18,000 in gifts and once owned Star stock -- but he has largely sidestepped the scandal despite Democrats' efforts to tie him to it.
Addressing ethics reform in April, after revealing some freebies he had failed to disclose, Cuccinelli proposed a mandatory 10-day reporting period for gifts to state officials worth more than $500, a requirement that officials' immediate family members report gifts, and simplified disclosure forms.
Current law requires officials to report gifts worth more than $50 on the economic interest forms they file annually. There is no cap on gifts, and the law has exceptions for items given to office holders' relatives and those from personal friends.
After months of news accounts chronicling Williams' gifts to the McDonnells, the governor recently apologized for embarrassing Virginia and violating the public trust and pledged to return those items. He maintains that he complied with the law, though he is open to revisions and is preparing some recommendations.
Likewise, House Republican leaders are working on a package of changes they say are best left to the 2014 General Assembly.
"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," reads a statement from House Speaker William Howell of Stafford County and three colleagues.
Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for governor, has proposed a ban on gifts exceeding $100 to elected officials and their families, and he favors the creation of an independent ethics commission covering elected officials and their staffs.
He dismissed Cuccinelli's appeal for a special session as a political gimmick.
Julian Walker, 804-697-1564, email@example.com
(c)2013 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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