Ethics commission submits first report to Governor

By Lynn R. Mitchell

The Commission on Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government, headed up by former Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling and former Congressman Rick Boucher, turned in an interim report on their recommendations on ethics reforms. The report contains recommendations that will strengthen ethics oversight and enforcement, place new restrictions on gifts and loans, reduce the potential for conflicts of interests, and clarify post-public service restrictions. Governor McAuliffe will review the report and make final decisions on his legislative initiatives in the coming weeks.

The Governor thanked the Commission members and noted, “I greatly appreciate the hard work and intellectual rigor that have gone into the development of this report. I want to give particular thanks to former U.S. Representative Rick Boucher and former Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling for their leadership in producing thoughtful recommendations to strengthen ethics laws in the commonwealth.”

Co-chair Bill Bolling commented, “These issues are complex, and they are crucial to regaining the public’s trust in their leaders. We have taken our mission seriously, and these recommendations represent our collective effort to provide the Governor with realistic and meaningful reforms.”

Agreeing, Co-chair Boucher added,  “Many hours have been invested by all members of the commission in the development of these recommendations. By imposing an overall limit on both tangible and intangible gifts to public officials, creating an independent ethics review commission with investigative and enforcement authority, and strengthening Virginia’s conflict of interests prohibitions, these interim recommendations constitute a major step forward in the effort to ensure that in Virginia no interest comes before the public interest.”

The press release included some of the significant recommendations:

  • The establishment of an independent Ethics Review Commission with the authority to issue advice on ethics laws, to implement random audits, to initiative investigations of potential violations of ethics laws and policies, rather than merely react to external complaints, and to issue appropriate sanctions and waivers when necessary and appropriate.
  • A $250 cap on both tangible and intangible gifts in aggregate over a calendar year that applies to all givers, not just lobbyists, principals of lobbyists and parties to contracts.
  • A clear prohibition against voting by board and commission members on any matter in which a conflict of interests exists.
  • An expanded definition of conflicts of interests that broadens the definition of immediate family and includes business associates.

The report had been requested by December 1, 2014, to be able to pursue legislation in the upcoming 2015 Virginia General Assembly. A third meeting will be held on December 22 to vote on recommendations for redistricting reforms. Other issues the commission will tackle include campaign finance, lobbying laws, the selection and service of judges and other public officials, and gubernatorial terms.

Other members of the commission are former Delegate Viola Baskerville, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Sharon Bulova, former President of the University of Virginia John T. Casteen III, President of Hampden-Sydney College Christopher Howard, Vice President for Advancement at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Susan A. Magill, attorney and former Assistant Attorney General Courtney M. Malveaux, former Delegate Joe T. May and former President and CEO of BB&T Scott & Stringfellow, Inc. John Sherman, Jr.

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