Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is calling for a $250 cap on gifts to elected officials, one of a series of detailed proposals he unveiled Tuesday in response to the ongoing controversy over gifts accepted by Virginia’s other two statewide officeholders.
In a statement, Bolling (R) said a “series of unfortunate events” in recent months revealed deficiencies in state laws concerning the acceptance and disclosure of gifts.
He did not allude directly to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), a longtime ally whose family accepted $145,000 in payments from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a wealthy political supporter, or to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), a sometimes foe who took $18,000 in gifts from the same donor.
But Bolling said “the confidence of the people of Virginia in their state government has been eroded” and can only be restored through “immediate action.”
His proposals came a day after Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor, asked McDonnell to call a special session of the General Assembly to tighten gift laws even before the legislature meets again in January.
McDonnell has said he does not believe a special session is necessary, although he has promised to unveil his own ideas for legal changes in coming days.
Ibbie Hedrick, a Bolling spokesman, did not discount a special session but said, “It is important for these issues to be addressed in a thoughtful and substantive way, which would more likely be accomplished in January,” when the legislature reconvenes.
Leaders of both major parties have said they support changing Virginia’s law in response to the Williams revelations. McDonnell has apologized for embarrassing the state and repaid $120,000 to Williams for loans he said the businessman made to his wife and to a small corporation he owns with his sister.
He has also said he is working to return gifts Williams gave to his family, including $15,000 that the executive of Star Scientific Inc., a dietary supplement company, gave for catering at the wedding of one of McDonnell’s daughters, $15,000 in high-end clothing Williams bought for McDonnell’s wife and a $6,500 Rolex that Williams provided for McDonnell.
But McDonnell has said he followed current Virginia law, which does not require officials to disclose gifts that are given to their spouses or immediate family or require them to name creditors who give their families loans.
Republicans have generally supported ways to tighten disclosure rules in response but have shied away from gift caps.
Cuccinelli has suggested that elected officials be required to report within 10 days all gifts they receive worth more than $500 and that disclosure requirements be extended to relatives of elected officials.
His gubernatorial rival, Terry McAuliffe (D), wants to limit gifts worth more than $100. On Monday, he rejected Cuccinelli’s call for a special session.
“I just think this is another gimmick by the attorney general,” McAuliffe said.
The issue of whether the state should hold a special session has opened one of the most significant rifts in the GOP since the start of the gubernatorial campaign.
In a statement, leaders of the Republican-led House of Delegates said they support legal changes but also believe that the issue would be best addressed during 2014’s regular session.
In Virginia, a special session of the General Assembly can be called only by the governor or by the agreement of a supermajority of both legislative chambers.
In a statement, Cuccinelli said he was “disappointed” that McDonnell and “some others in state government” had declined to join his call to bring lawmakers to Richmond.
“I’m disappointed, because I believe Virginians want solutions right now, not sometime down the road,” he said. “Working together, there is an opportunity for improvement right now. I think we can achieve more in August than we are likely to achieve in January.”
Bolling released his proposals through his new political action committee, Virginia Mainstream Project, launched to support what he termed “mainstream” Republicans after he withdrew from the race for governor, concluding that he would be unable to win the GOP nomination over Cuccinelli at a conservative-dominated state convention.
After weighing a run for governor as an independent, Bolling decided to sit out the race, although he has at times been critical of his party’s nominee.
Under Virginia law, considered among the most lax in the nation, elected officials must annually disclose only gifts worth more than $50. Gifts to spouses and other immediate family members and from personal friends do not have to be disclosed.
In addition to a new gift cap, Bolling proposed extending disclosure requirements to the spouses and dependent children of officials.
He said he believes that elected officials should have to disclose any sources of income to themselves or their spouses greater than $1,000 a year — rather than $10,000, as current law requires.
All stock holdings should be disclosed, he said, not just those that total more than $10,000 a year, as now required.
And he said elected officials should have to name any creditor from whom they receive an unsecured loan.
Bolling said he also supports creating a state ethics commission and prohibiting the spending of campaign funds on personal uses.
And he called for prohibiting lawmakers from representing clients before state agencies and attorneys general from accepting political contributions or gifts from law firms that get assignments from the attorney general’s office.
State and federal investigations into McDonnell’s relationship with Williams are ongoing.
A prosecutor in Richmond reviewed Cuccinelli’s annual economic disclosures and found that he broke no laws, although Cuccinelli failed to promptly disclose stock holdings in Williams’s company and came forward in April to acknowledge that he had also failed to disclose some of Williams’s gifts, including a vacation at his lake house and a catered Thanksgiving dinner. He has said the omissions were inadvertent.
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.