As the McDonnell corruption trial moves toward its end, the predictable stories are decrying — once again — Virginia’s absurdly lax ethics laws and why they must be toughened.
There’s the usual observation that the five-week extravaganza of a trial that is drawing international attention will put the state on an entirely new axis when it comes to public integrity. Plenty of harrumphing.
The legislature, however, had its shot this winter and came through with only very mild changes, putting dollar limits on tangible “gifts” but failing to take any kind of substantive measure, such as establishing a real investigatory ethics commission.
The best work I’ve seen has come from the Roanoke Times’ Dan Casey who pored over the new ethics law that went into effect July 1 and compared it with testimony that ended last week at the McDonnell trial (it goes to the jury tomorrow.)
A few of Casey’s pointers:
- The famous $6,500 Rolex. Would Jonnie Williams have been stopped from giving it to Maureen McDonnell, who then gave it to Bob McDonnell? Not at all. The new law says that officials, spouses an immediate family may not accept anything tangible that is more than $250 in value. But this applies only to lobbyists and business executives seeking state contracts. Williams wasn’t looking for a traditional state contract, specifically. He wanted gubernatorial help in prompting his product Anatabloc and gubernatorial muscle to pressure state universities into researching its key ingredient, anatabine.
- Bob probably wouldn’t have had to report the Rolex because it came from a “personal friend” who is not a lobbyist or person doing business with the state. At least McDonnell testified that he thought he was a friend. Not Jonnie, whose plan was to schmooze up Maureen and Bob, get them to get state university research and then the schools would apply to the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission to give them more research money (plus the prestige of having the University of Virginia or Virginia Commonwealth University seal of approval on it).
Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.