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McDonnell to let Va. Cabinet heads serve on corporate boards

Virginia governor-elect Robert F. McDonnell, flanked by members of hs inauguration committee, announces his plans for his sweaing in.
Virginia governor-elect Robert F. McDonnell, flanked by members of hs inauguration committee, announces his plans for his sweaing in. (Steve Helber/associated Press)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

RICHMOND -- Virginia's incoming governor, Robert F. McDonnell, said Tuesday that he will allow all his Cabinet secretaries to serve on corporate boards, an unusual practice that is banned by the federal government and some states.

McDonnell's comments came as he continued to defend his decision to allow his newly appointed secretary of commerce and trade, Robert Sledd, to sit on three corporate boards after the two men take office next week.

Sledd, a former businessman from Richmond, said in an interview late Tuesday that he will continue to donate the $200,000 salary he receives from the boards to charities.

"I think I can make a difference," he said. "I don't want to give up what I am already doing. It's important for me to give to those organizations."

The employment arrangement violates no Virginia law, but some ethics experts say the dual roles could create a conflict of interest for Sledd and give the corporations that pay him an unfair edge in the state.

"If he wants to come in as commerce secretary, he should come in with a clean slate," said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, a nonprofit group in Washington that monitors government ethics issues. "He should divest himself of these relationships even before any conflict comes up."

Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said federal law prohibits U.S. Cabinet secretaries and other federal officials from serving on corporate boards. Each state has different laws, but Virginia does not ban such service.

McDonnell (R) said he does not foresee any conflicts, but that if any arose, Sledd would recuse himself.

"If there were any conflict from the boards he's going to stay on, then he would obviously not be able to participate in any decision making," McDonnell said. "But we've looked at those boards, and we don't think there's going to be any conflict."

McDonnell said that if Sledd recuses himself from an issue, the administration would make the arrangement public. "Sure, we'll do that, absolutely," he said.

If confirmed by the General Assembly, Sledd will oversee 13 agencies that regulate business policy and recruitment.

Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), who serves as chairman of his chamber's Labor and Commerce Committee, said he has concerns about Sledd's board service.

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