Virginia working on hilarious new ethics law

posted at 3:31 pm on February 23, 2014 by Jazz Shaw

When Bob McDonnell fell, he fell hard, and his troubles centered pretty much entirely on gifts he received while in office. This affair prompted some close scrutiny of Virginia’s laughable ethics laws regarding such gifts to politicians, how they are tracked and what the potential penalties are for such largess. Now, we could have a discussion about how proper and effective such laws are – I find some of them to take a shotgun to kill a mosquito approach which needlessly ties up those serving in public office – but if you’re going to have such laws, make them effective.

Virginia, however, seems to be taking a different approach as outlined in an article this weekend by Robert McCartney.

The purported “ethics reform” bills sliding easily through the Virginia legislature include a curious, little-noticed provision. Under language approved by the Senate and House of Delegates, legislators would no longer be obliged to have their financial disclosure forms notarized.

Why is that important? It means lawmakers would be charged only with a misdemeanor, rather than a felony, for making a false statement about their investments or gifts they’ve received from lobbyists.

Well, isn’t that convenient.

Changing a potential felony for failure to disclose into a misdemeanor is rather like reducing your skyrocketing rape statistics by redefining it as disorderly conduct. But that’s not all of the goodies buried in the new legislation, assuming anyone takes the time to read the entire thing. The current provisions of the law which do require notarization of disclosures apply only to the legislature, not the Governor. (And you’ve got Terry McAuliffe now, so…)

Also in the bill is a cap of $250 on “tangible gifts.” This is problematic on a couple of levels. That’s a limit on a single gift, with no restrictions on cumulative giving. So you could, in theory, get 900 gifts worth $250 each. Also, the “tangible” part of it excludes all manner of trips to golf courses, casinos or what have you. As the article notes, Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) tried to introduce an amendment which would require officials to justify the need for any trip costing more than $1,000. The amendment was shot down in the state senate by a voice vote.

And there’s one more glaring hole in the bill.

Finally, the bills would not require disclosure of gifts or loans to corporate entities in which a public official owned a stake.

That means there still would be no need for disclosure of payments similar to the large loans from Williams to a McDonnell family real estate venture.

“Somebody could give my law firm a car I could drive, and I wouldn’t have to report that,” said Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), the only delegate to vote against the bill.

This law is a joke, and if Terry McAuliffe signs it, that’s going to speak volumes about him. Of course, it’s a lesson a lot of us already knew.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Ridiculous…There goes VA, down the tubes…

OmahaConservative on February 23, 2014 at 3:34 PM

Our betters know better… Just ask em’.

VegasRick on February 23, 2014 at 3:37 PM

Finally, the bills would not require disclosure of gifts or loans to corporate entities in which a public official owned a stake.

I expect a run on Legal Zoom for creating corporations by all VA. public officials.

rbj on February 23, 2014 at 3:43 PM

The current provisions of the law which do require notarization of disclosures apply only to the legislature, not the Governor. (And you’ve got Terry McAuliffe now, so…)

…isn’t that RICH?
…just comedy!…they will need a seperate law…just for TM!

KOOLAID2 on February 23, 2014 at 3:52 PM

McAuliffe replaces McDonnell. Small time crook replaced by big time crook. Good job, Virginia.

petefrt on February 23, 2014 at 3:56 PM

Ethics laws prohibiting gifts and favors are generally ineffective. The best plan is not to prohibit anything, but to require instant disclosure on pain of serious felony consequences. If Soros wants to give McAuliffe $1 million for Christmas, fine, but if it isn’t immediately made public then Terry goes directly to jail. That way the public knows who is getting what from whom and their political opponents can make hay of it.

It should be noted that none of the gifts or loans the McDonnell family received violated Virginia law. The idea of reforming the ethics law was to close those loopholes, or at least tighten them up a bit. It appears the net effect will be a wash at best.

Adjoran on February 23, 2014 at 4:38 PM

Don’t put too much stock in “ethics” laws. A lot of states purposefully design them to be draconian and hard to understand so incumbents can use them to attack newbie challengers as being “unethical” for failing to disclose the time their high school friend gave them a ticket to the home & garden show.

Outlander on February 23, 2014 at 4:42 PM

This law is a joke, and if Terry McAuliffe signs it, that’s going to speak volumes about him. Of course, it’s a lesson a lot of us already knew.

Anyone think he won’t sign it?

Midas on February 23, 2014 at 4:46 PM

This law is a joke, and if Terry McAuliffe signs it, that’s going to speak volumes about him.

He will, because McAuliffe is a joke – a bad one Northern Virginia pulled on the rest of the state.

bgoldman on February 23, 2014 at 4:49 PM

Ridiculous…There goes VA, down the tubes…

OmahaConservative on February 23, 2014 at 3:34 PM

Yep. I am looking to get out of this place before it gets worse.

GWB on February 23, 2014 at 8:07 PM

Yep. I am looking to get out of this place before it gets worse.

GWB on February 23, 2014 at 8:07 PM

We are 5 miles from NC. We were thinking of building a house, so we’d been looking at some land. Said to dh yesterday, “You know, maybe we should look on the other side of the state line.”

He pointed out that the schools are better here than in that part of NC. (Homeschooled our oldest (now in college), but middle son is mentally handicapped and has done very well in school. How long will that be true at the rate VA is declining…)

CJ on February 23, 2014 at 8:21 PM

A hidden provision in the ethics bill permits Clintoon to rape anyone, anywhere, at any time.

viking01 on February 23, 2014 at 8:31 PM

The easy way is to just write a law posing the question “What would Terry do?”
If Terry would do it, It’s Good.

Another Drew on February 23, 2014 at 9:41 PM

Why do I get the sickening feeling America’s government, put in place by America’s electorate, is near rotted to the core?
“The fate of good men who refuse to become involved in politics is to be ruled by evil men.” ~ Edmund Burke

lel2007 on February 23, 2014 at 10:27 PM

Big Money has corrupted politics. It’s all bribery whether it can be proven in court or not. But what if the law were changed so that the appearance of “quid pro quo” was itself a crime? After all, the appearance of wrongdoing has the greatest corrosive effect on public faith in government.

So let Anybody contribute anything to any politician. But if a politician subsequently works to grant this Anybody a political favor, the government can confiscate those contributions.

So political contributions would still be allowed per the 1st Amendment. But they would in effect place a poison pill restriction on the politician.

And if any contributions are made anonymously, the government can take those as well.

Rich H on February 24, 2014 at 1:14 AM

Don’t take any gifts.
Always pick up the damn check.
Stay out of trouble.

I took an ethics course at work about twenty years ago. The instructor said that he could bore us for days about what was acceptable when, or he could just tell us to never take so much as a donut. If we accepted the second principle, he guaranteed we would never get in trouble, and we could save a lot of hassle.

Good advice, that I have held to ever since. I have lost out on a free lunch, now and then, but I am no leaner for it.

Haiku Guy on February 24, 2014 at 6:14 AM

It could be worse. Check out — if you dare — Illinois’s mandatory annual ethics training for all state employees. This law was enacted under the impetus of Rod Blagojevich, who was later
jailed for attempting to sell Obama’s senate seat. But all of us still have the annual BS ethics training to make sure we know we aren’t supposed to accept bribes.

jwolf on February 24, 2014 at 8:42 AM

The sad thing about ethics rules and laws is that they only pertain to ethical people. The liars, cheats, and thieves continue to operate as usual.

savage24 on February 24, 2014 at 12:32 PM

test

VorDaj on February 25, 2014 at 4:20 AM