Report: Virginia Hasn't Done Much to Improve Ethics and Transparency Since McDonnell Scandal

Nov 23, 2020

A few years ago, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was involved in a political scandal over ethics. And a new report shows the Commonwealth hasn't improved its standing since then.

Virginia ranks in the lower third of states for ethics and transparency, according to a new report from the Coalition for Integrity. That's the group that ranked Virginia low in its first Swamp Index two years ago. Now in the latest index, Virginia ranks even lower because the coalition added new questions about advertising disclosures and anonymous complaints, and Virginia gets failing grades in the new categories.

Shruti Shah at the coalition says Virginia has ethics agencies but they don’t have much power.

Credit Coalition for Integrity Facebook Page

"They don't actually have any teeth. I mean it has zero enforcement power," Shah explains. "It's one of four states that can't sanction violations and one of only two states that can't even investigate complaints."

Delegate Marcus Simon says Democrats focused their first term on reforming elections and voting, raising the Commonwealth's low rankings in those areas. He says ethics and transparency could be next.

"I think there's some low-hanging fruit, looking at creating some investigatory authority for some bodies that already exist to be watchdogs is something we could probably try and tackle in a short session," he says. "I think we can do some improvements to our campaign finance transparency, maybe some enhanced reporting requirements."

Simon says Democrats will have a hard time accomplishing all that in the limited amount of time they’ll have because Republicans say they'll oppose efforts to extend the session beyond 30 days.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.