Revised ethics legislation sets lower cap on campaign gifts

Moran cites bill as response to McDonnell's indictment, conviction


A Virginia House subcommittee tabled the measure.

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a new ethics reform bill Tuesday which tightens certain restrictions of the reform bill passed last year. The new bill sets a $100 cap on gifts for political campaigns and strengthens the independent advisory panel created in the 2014 bill.

These new provisions came after the conviction of former Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was found to have received over $100,000 in improper gifts from Star Scientific’s former-CEO Jonnie Williams. The $100 spending cap is reduced from the $250 cap which was put in place in 2014 after McDonnell’s indictment.

Matthew Moran, communications director for Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, said McDonnell’s conviction played a role in the bill’s proposal.

“The steps we took last year [were] in response to the news of McDonnell,” he said. “After his conviction last September we thought that taking another step was the right thing to do.”

The bill passed last year also required legislators to report financial disclosures twice a year — an increase from the annual report used previously — and report the financial disclosures of immediate family members. It also includes mandatory ethics training and an independent advisory panel.

“The General Assembly took meaningful steps last year to improve our ethics laws,” Howell said. “But as I wrote in September of last year, it was clear that the public demanded further action. I said then that the General Assembly would take the necessary steps to help restore the public’s trust in government.”

Moran said voter concern regarding campaign finance fraud following McDonnell’s conviction also prompted the bill’s creation.

“We thought that the public wanted more [restrictions] and that the $100 was a way to meet that standard,” Moran said.

The new bill includes a provision that had been previously vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2014 prohibiting the governor from accepting campaign contributions from a company seeking grants from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund. This fund gives taxpayer grants to bring a company into the Commonwealth.

Moran said that the governor’s ability to accept campaign contributions from a company seeking a taxpayer grant was a loophole.

McAuliffe has not yet signed the bill, and it is unclear whether McAuliffe will veto the provision again.

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, introduced the bill, and it was passed 93-6 in the House of Delegates as a strong bipartisan effort.

“I believe the action we have taken will go a long way toward achieving that goal [of restoring the public’s trust],” Howell said. “We are enacting a strict gift cap, strengthening independent oversight and making our financial disclosure system more accessible and transparent."

related stories