Ramadan backs special ethics session

Fellow Republicans rebuffed Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II last week as he called for a special legislative session on ethics, but on Saturday he found a taker: Del. David Ramadan.

Cuccinelli, the GOP nominee for governor, publicly pressed Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) last week to call the General Assembly back to Richmond to take up the state’s lax gift laws, which have drawn attention amid a gifts scandal involving the governor and his family.

McDonnell rejected the suggestion, as did Republican House leaders, contending that reform is necessary but can wait until legislators return for their regular session in January.

But on Saturday, Ramadan (R-Loudoun) announced via e-mail that he supports convening the legislature immediately. Ramadan has had his own issues with gift disclosures and, like Cuccinelli, has a connection to McDonnell scandal, which is the subject of state and federal investigations.

“Nothing is more important to me as an elected official than voters’ trust in their government,” Ramadan said in a prepared statement. “Recent events in Richmond have hurt that trust. I believe that we as elected representatives must act — and act quickly — to restore that trust. I believe the best way to start the process is to immediately convene a special session of the General Assembly to re-work Virginia’s ethics and gift giving regulations. We can’t wait any longer, Virginians want resolution, and they want it now.”

Investigators have been looking into the McDonnell family’s connection to Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr., who provided them with luxury items, $25,000 in monetary gifts and $120,000 in loans.

McDonnell has insisted that he provided no state favors in exchange for the gifts, which he recently promised to return.

In the course of their investigation, officials served Ramadan, a jeweler, with a federal subpoena. Ramadan has confirmed receiving the subpoena but has declined to say whether he has ever provided gifts to the first family, including first lady Maureen McDonnell.

Ramadan acknowledged earlier this year that he had failed to report receiving a free trip to Taiwan from that country’s government in 2012, as the Loudoun Times reported at the time. Ramadan initially said he did not think he had to disclose the $7,500 trip, which was billed as an economic development mission, the Loudoun Times reported.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy and craven political double speak when Delegate Ramadan, who himself has failed to disclose trips and gifts, most notably a trip worth thousands of dollars from the Taiwanese government, splits with his caucus and becomes the only Republican to join Ken Cuccinelli in calling for a special session,” Ashley Bauman, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said via e-mail. “It’s clear that Ramadan will do and say anything to hold on to power, even asking tax payers to foot the bill for this political stunt.”

Ramadan did not respond to a request for comment.

State gift law allows office-holders to accept gifts of any size as long as they disclose any worth more than $50. Gifts to immediate family members do not have to be reported, a loophole that Cuccinelli and others have advocated closing in the wake of the McDonnell scandal.

The governor has the power to call a special session, something the General Assembly can do only with a super-majority of both chambers.

Cuccinelli has his own connection to the Star scandal, having received about $18,000 in gifts from Williams. He initially failed to disclose some of those gifts, totaling $4,500, as well as substantial stock holdings in Star.

Cuccinelli has said the reporting lapses were inadvertent. At Cuccinelli’s request, a Richmond prosecutor reviewed the attorney general’s financial disclosures and found no evidence that he broke the law.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.

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