Amid disclosure debate, Terry McAuliffe proposes tighter gift laws for Va. officials


Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe (Evan Agostini/AP) (Evan Agostini/AP)
April 25, 2013

The war of words over ethics and disclosure issues in Virginia’s gubernatorial race continued Thursday as Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe proposed tightening the commonwealth’s rules on gifts to elected officials.

McAuliffe’s announcement came amid scrutiny of gifts given to his Republican opponent, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, and to Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) by the chief executive of a dietary supplement firm, Star Scientific.

The move also appears to be an attempt by McAuliffe to go on offense against Cuccinelli after several days of being prodded by Republicans to release his tax returns and hounded by questions about the viability of the electric car company he founded, GreenTech.

Virginia elected officials can accept unlimited gifts as long as they disclose any gift worth more than $50. And officials do not have to report gifts given to their family members.

Those policies have drawn fresh attention since The Washington Post reported that Star Scientific’s chief executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., paid the $15,000 catering bill for the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter. Williams also has allowed McDonnell and his family to use his vacation home.

More importantly for this year’s race, Cuccinelli has disclosed receiving nearly $13,000 in personal gifts from Williams and has reported overnight stays at Williams’s Goochland County home. Cuccinelli also failed for more than a year to disclose that he owned stock in Star Scientific.

Under McAuliffe’s proposal, no elected official or immediate family member could accept more than $100 worth of gifts from a single donor. Registered lobbyists and companies with registered lobbyists or with business before the state would be banned from giving any gifts other than informational material worth less than $50.

McAuliffe said he would adhere to such a policy regardless of whether the General Assembly moves to change the laws.

“Virginia taxpayers deserve to know that their elected officials are representing the Commonwealth first,” McAuliffe said in a news release. “I’m committed to enacting these common-sense rules via executive order when I am elected and working with the General Assembly to make them permanent and cover members of the legislature.”

Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix said Thursday that the Republican “supports stricter gift laws to ensure transparency within our government. In fact, in the near future, he will be providing details concerning his approach.”

Nix added: “Terry McAuliffe’s repackaged policy proposals will not convince anyone familiar with his history as a political dealmaker that he has any credibility on issues related to good government. If McAuliffe wants to demonstrate any level of seriousness concerning transparency, he will immediately make available copies of his tax returns and answer questions about his secretive business dealings, starting with GreenTech.”

This week, McAuliffe released summaries of tax returns for 2009 through 2011. The release showed that he earned $8.2 million in 2011. Cuccinelli has opened eight years of tax records — 225 pages — to the media.

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