Amid a furor over his veto of budget language related to Medicaid reform, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe also moved Friday to defund a major component of the bipartisan ethics legislation passed during this year’s session.
The Virginia Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council was central to legislation passed in response to the gifts scandal surrounding former governor Robert F. McDonnell.
The 15-member group would be tasked with collecting and reviewing financial filings and disclosures, offering advice on ethical issues, providing ethics orientation and education, and conducting an annual review of the law’s impact with recommended changes.
The council was also supposed to decide how financial forms would be filed, who would collect them, how the public would access them and whether any personal data should be redacted.
Those issues are already proving complicated as officials struggle with the launch of a searchable online database mandated by the law.
In a statement, McAuliffe said the ethics legislation passed was too weak and needs to be adjusted.
“I plan to present revised legislation to the 2015 General Assembly session on this topic, and the creation of a new bureaucracy beforehand would be unwise and premature,” he said. “I also question the constitutionality of the commission given its scope of responsibilities.”
Critics have long lamented that the ethics law was not stronger. But when it was passed by the General Assembly in April, McAuliffe made only small changes, primarily to correct drafting errors. At the time, a spokesman said the governor was deferring to lawmakers and would work on deeper reforms next year.
McAuliffe has imposed a $100 gift cap on himself, his family and his executive staff. Lawmakers limited the value of gifts any individual may give to an office holder to $250 a year but left “intangible” gifts, such as meals, transportation and trips, untouched.
McAuliffe has also announced that he will halt all work on a new General Assembly Building, a multi-million-dollar project.
He said in his statement that “it simply sends the wrong signal” at a time of tight finances.