Ethics Reform Passed in Final Hours of General Assembly Session

Mar 2, 2015

State and local officials would be governed by tougher ethics rules under legislation that passed the General Assembly during the final hours of the 2015 session.  The bills make it illegal for lobbyists, their clients, and anyone who seeks to do business with the state or local governments to give an official a gift worth more than $100. 

The bills lower the gift cap from $250 to $100, require on-line reporting of gifts worth more than $50, and erase the distinction between tangible and intangible gifts, such as meals or travel.  

Knowing violations would be a Class 5 felony. Bill sponsor Delegate Todd Gilbert said official travel worth more than $100 must be pre-approved by a new Conflict of Interests Advisory Council. 

“So if it’s a legitimate thing that bears a legitimate, reasonable nexus between your job and the purpose of the travel, we think that would be approved.  If it doesn’t bear any reasonable relationship—and we have had examples of that even in recent history where, frankly, it went beyond the scope of the job of a public official—we have decided that those types of things will, in all likelihood, not be approved.”

The governor, Senate Rules Committee, and House Speaker would each appoint three members to the Council, which must include three retired judges.

The bills also prohibit the governor from knowingly accepting campaign contributions from companies seeking grants from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund, which instead would be called the “Commonwealth” Opportunity Fund.  The measures do not include Governor McAuliffe’s proposal for a panel with investigatory and subpoena powers.