Northam reviving call for VA. ethics reform

July 10, 2013

State Sen. Ralph Northam, the Democrat running for lieutenant governor, is calling for new ethics rules in Virginia, including the creation of an ethics board and a $100 cap on gifts to lawmakers and their immediate families.

Northam, who faces Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson (R) in November, also said his proposal would cut the threshold for elected officials to have to disclose an investment in half, to $5,000.

Northam’s initiative is the latest in a string of proposed measures, including plans by gubernatorial candidates Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D), as state and federal investigators probe gifts and payments to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and some family members by Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the chief executive of the dietary supplement firm Star Scientific. The proposals would be a significant shift from Virginia’s ethics laws, seen as among the most relaxed rules in the country and focused primarily on disclosure, not limits or state oversight.

The current “safeguards against the abuse of political power for personal gain in Virginia are woefully inadequate, and we must restore confidence that ethical misconduct will not be tolerated,” Northam said in a statement.

In Virginia, elected officials can accept unlimited gifts as long as they disclose those worth more than $50. Officials are not required to report gifts to family members.

McDonnell has denied any wrongdoing as investigators probe his financial ties to Williams. The governor has said he followed the state’s disclosure laws, and that he is open to changing the ethics rules to address some of the issues raised by the Williams’ gifts and payments.

Northam, a senator from Norfolk, sponsored similar legislation in 2010, but the proposal only applied to members of the General Assembly. The plan received bipartisan support in the Senate, but stalled in the House.

Cuccinelli, whose relationship with Williams has drawn scrutiny as well, and McAuliffe also have mentioned ethics reform on the campaign trail.

McAuliffe has called for an independent ethics commission, and has vowed not to accept more than $100 worth of gifts from a single donor. Cuccinelli said he supports tighter rules governing gifts to public officials, including eliminating the family member reporting exclusion.

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