Virginia Lawmakers Raise Questions About Ethics Rules
Even as former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell waits for the Supreme Court to hear his appeal in a bribery conviction, lawmakers in Richmond are trying to chip away at new ethics rules created in the wake of that scandal. But current Governor Terry McAuliffe is proposing amendments.
Members of the Senate initially wanted to allow lawmakers to accept unlimited steak dinners from lobbyists. They eventually struck a compromise with House members that allowed them to accept unlimited meals, as long as the meals were worth less than $20 each. Now Governor Terry McAuliffe says sending that idea back to the kitchen, telling lawmakers they must continue to count individuals meals toward the $100 annual limit, although they can continue to accept unlimited gifts -- like baseball hats -- as long as they're worth less than $25 each.
"Lawmakers are on solid ground when they argue that an individual vote is not going to be bought for a steak dinner," says Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington, "But make no mistake about it -- offering goodies to lawmakers is good business. If it were not good business, lobbyists wouldn't be doing it."
Geoff Skelley at the University of Virginia Center for Politics says, "It's not really addressing the issue, which is the potential for corruption, the potential for quid pro quo."
Lawmakers need only a simple majority to overturn McAuliffe's amendment, although they risk having the bill vetoed and starting over again next year.