The Washington Post

Attorney General candidate Obenshain indifferent on special session on ethics

Republican Attorney General candidate Mark D. Obenshain said Tuesday that he isn’t calling for a special session to address ethics reform in Virginia, in contrast to comments made by his gubernatorial running mate a day earlier.

Obenshain did say he thinks change is needed, whether it happens now or when the General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene in January.

“Whether it’s done in a special session or in January, it matters not to me,” Obenshain told reporters after addressing a group of seniors to discuss his campaign at the Greenspring senior living facility in Fairfax County. “I think we just need to wait and see what unfolds.”

On Monday, GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli called on Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to convene a special session this month. McDonnell has said he is working on reform proposals, but doesn’t see the need for a special session four months before the General Assembly returns.

Cuccinelli on Tuesday expressed disappointment in the governor and House leadership for not supporting a special session.

Outoing Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) also endorsed a $250 cap on gifts to elected officials as part of a package of proposals he announced through his political action committee on Tuesday in response to the gifts controversy. While Bolling did not discount a special session, he signaled that he thought taking up the issue in January could be more productive.

House Clerk G. Paul Nardo said in a statement that a one-day special session could cost taxpayers about $28,000 a day. The governor has the authority to convene a special session. The General Assembly can call one as well, with a super-majority from both chambers.

The issue of gifts to lawmakers has come under growing scrutiny in recent months, after The Post began reporting in March about more than $150,000 in gifts and loans given to McDonnell and his family members by Star Scientific Chief Executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. Williams also gave $18,000 in gifts to Cuccinelli.

Obenshain, a state senator from Harrisonburg, is running against fellow Sen. Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun) in November to succeed Cuccinelli as attorney general. Both candidates have said they favor new ethics laws that would cap gifts to elected officials and members of their households to $100, and that they would implement such a policy in the attorney general’s office, regardless of whether the General Assembly takes action on the matter.

“I think it’s appropriate for us to adopt new rules, irrespective of whether any laws or rules have been broken,” Obenshain said Tuesday. “The fact remains a crisis of conscience has arisen as a result of what is going on in the governor’s office. I think that’s all it takes for me to be satisfied that we need to restore confidence, and if by adopting restrictions on receiving gifts can help do that, I’m all for it.”

Asked whether he thought McDonnell or Cuccinelli should return gifts they received from Williams, Obenshain declined to comment.

“They’re going to have to weigh the political calculus of those decisions,” Obenshain said, adding when specifically pressed about Cuccinelli: “I’ve never been given $18,000 in gifts. I can’t imagine receiving $18,000 in gifts. You’re asking me a question that I can’t answer.”



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