RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe will announce on Thursday the formation of a commission to study ethics, campaign-finance reform and nonpartisan redistricting.
The announcement comes less than a month after former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, were convicted of corruption.
McAuliffe (D) will put two high-profile former officeholders at the helm of the commission: Bill Bolling, a former Republican lieutenant governor, and Rick Boucher, a Democrat who represented southwestern Virginia in Congress for nearly three decades, according to two people familiar with McAuliffe’s plan. The two spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information before Thursday’s announcement.
Bolling and Boucher did not return calls seeking comment. McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy declined to discuss the announcement, but the governor’s office released a public schedule Wednesday that indicated that McAuliffe would hold a “press conference on ethics reform” at 10:30 a.m. in the state Capitol.
The McDonnells were convicted early this month of essentially selling the prestige of the governor’s office to a businessman in exchange for $177,000 in luxury vacations, expensive gifts and sweetheart loans.
Details of the couple’s relationship with then-Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. began trickling out more than a year before they went to trial. The scandal prompted the General Assembly to tighten what were some of the loosest gift laws in the nation.
But many observers said the reforms were relatively modest and did not go far enough, and legislators and McAuliffe promised to revisit the topic. The shock of the McDonnells’ convictions seems to have sent those vague pledges into overdrive, with legislators on both sides of the aisle talking about banning gifts to officeholders entirely in a state that until recently put absolutely no limits on them.
McAuliffe’s commission seems intended to take an even broader approach, not only delving into the realm of gifts but also reforming the state’s campaign finance laws and establishing a nonpartisan process for redistricting. Several political observers gave redistricting reform little chance for success, but they praised the selection of Bolling and Boucher.
“I think that would be an excellent pairing,” said Ward Armstrong, a former Democratic delegate who pushed for ethics reform when he was in office. “They’ve got some serious repair work in the wake of McDonnell.”
Before changes in state law were enacted this year, officeholders could accept gifts of unlimited value as long as they disclosed any worth more than $50.
The package of ethics measures that the legislature passed and McAuliffe signed closed a loophole that allowed gifts to officeholders’ immediate relatives to go unreported. It also placed a $250 annual cap on the value of items someone could give an official in a year. But “intangible gifts” such as travel and meals remain unlimited, as do campaign donations.