2014 ethics legislation made minor reforms

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In the wake of the headline-grabbing scandal surrounding the gifts and loans the McDonnells received from business executive Jonnie Williams — and subsequent January 2014 indictment of the first couple — the General Assembly grappled with creating ethics reforms.

The legislation resulted in some minor changes to Virginia law.

The following are new rules governing disclosure requirements and gifts received from a lobbyist or person seeking to do business with the state.

The changes:

  • Require public officials and lobbyists to file disclosure forms twice a year, rather than just once.
  • Limit the value of “tangible gifts” from one lobbyist or person seeking government contracts to a total of $250 a year. The limit does not include “non-tangible” gifts, such as entertainment, hospitality, tickets, admissions, transportation, lodging or meals.
  • Decrease the disclosure requirement for many financial interests from $10,000 to $5,000.

The law also created the Virginia Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council, which would be a 15-member commission tasked with overseeing the collection and review of financial disclosure forms, advising public officials on ethical issues and recommending changes to ethics laws.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, however, defunded the commission in June. He said then that he wanted to create deeper reforms in the 2015 session and also questioned the constitutionality of some of the powers given to the commission.

Another portion of the law requires creation of a searchable database of public officials’ financial and gift disclosures. But state officials have been grappling with the creation — and funding — of the database. And the ethics commission was supposed to be responsible for implementing the online database.

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