Tray Adams Quoted in Bloomberg Article on VA Ethics Law

January 13, 2014

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The article, which ran Thursday, January 9, is below.

Va. Bipartisan Ethics Plan Has Gift Limits

A bipartisan plan that would establish the first gift value limits and stiffen disclosure requirements for Virginia lobbyists and elected officials elicited praise from both Common Cause and a Richmond lobbying firm on the first day of the General Assembly’s 2014 session.

The plan, hammered out by Democratic and Republican leaders in the House of Delegates, has yet to be turned into legislation. The leaders said in joint press release that they hope the initiative leads to a statute that ‘restores any public trust lost due to recent events.”
The deadline for bills to be introduced in Jan. 17.
The plan responds to a scandal over gifts that has enveloped the administration of outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.).
The plan is “major stride forward,” given that Virginia has very weak ethics rules today, Common Cause spokeswoman Mary Boyle told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 8.
Tray Adams, Virginia lobbying director of McGuireWoods Consulting, said the proposal “loks to be a significant step toward strengthening the state’s ethics laws. From our perspective, rules that are clear, enforceable and inspire increased public confidence represent a very positive move,”Adams said by e-mail.
Undisclosed Loans to Governor’s Wife.
House Speaker William Howell (R) vowed to tighten gift rules in the 2014 after it emerged in 2013 that a Virginia business executive had loaned $124,000 to McDonnell’s wife and a family business and provided other favors. The governor had not disclosed the loan.
McDonnell announced July 23 that the loans had been repaid in full. McDonnell said he broke no laws (3561 Money & Politics Report, 7/25/13).
The bipartisan plan would bar state and local elected officials — and their immediate family members — from soliciting gifts and institute a $250 maximum value for individual gifts given by lobbyists as well as gifts given by non-lobbyists who have business interests with the government.
The bipartisan plan is similar to a Jan. 6 recommendation made by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), although Bolling’s plan is somewhat broader and more detailed. Ibbie Hedrick, Bolling’s deputy chief of staff, told Bloomberg BNA that Bolling hopes that additional reforms are added during the legislative process.
Bolling proposed that elected officials disclose all their securities holding and loans, including the names of creditors. Current law requires reporting of securities holdings of $10,000 or more. He also proposed barring elected officials from making personal use of campaign funds.
Unlimited Meal, Travel Spending.
The $250 limit of gifts would not apply to meals and travel under the bipartisan plan.
“That’s a huge loophole. Meals and travel are a classic way to buy influence,” Common Cause’s Boyle told Bloomberg BNA. She also criticized the $250 gift limit, saying that many states have $10 limits.
House Minority Leader David Toscano (D) defended the $250 limit, saying in a telephone interview that there are loopholes in the rules of states with $10 limits, which do not exist in the Virginia bipartisan plan. He added that the limit in the final legislation might be different.
The minority leader defended leaving meal and travel spending unlimited, saying it was a result of “striking the right balance.”
Lawmakers and lobbyists would have to disclose trips and meals related to official business two times a year instead on one, as is required now.
The plan would also create a State Ethics Advisory Commission tasked with reviewing financial disclosures, posting them on a public website, conducting mandatory training for elected officials, and offering advisory opinions to elected officials on ethics questions.
Chances Good for Enactment.
The bipartisan agreement has been endorsed by the House Republican Caucus, the House Democratic Caucus, and the Senate Republican Caucus. A lobbyist told Bloomberg BNA that it is only a matter time before the Senate Democratic Caucus endorses it.
Toscano said the prospects for enacting ethics legislation in this session “are very good.”
The bipartisan plan would apply only to elected officials, but Toscano said he expects Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe (D) to issue an executive order strictly limiting lobbyist contact with executive branch employees.
Bolling and McDonnell leave office Jan. 11.
Campaign Finance ‘Wild West.’
Boyle said the bipartisan ethics plan is a step in the right direction but she the noted that it is silent on campaign contributions. She called Virginia campaign finance “the wild west” because of lenient rules on contributions.
The State Integrity Investigation, a 50-state examination led by the Center for Public Integrity, gave Virginia an overall “F,” including Fs for political financing, lobbying disclosure and legislative accountability.