I just got off a conference call with Democratic Virginia's next Attorney General, Mark Herring, during which he introduced his plan to reform and strengthen Virginia’s ethics laws. On the call, Sen. Herring said (partial transcript follows):
…as Virginia's next Attorney General, I will be vigilant in preventing corruption, holding elected officials accountable, and restoring the public's trust in our government institutions.
…Back on April 11, early on when the current gifts scandal was first beginning to unfold, I called for a federal investigation into the financial transactions between McDonnell, Cuccinelli, and Jonnie Williams. The two top elected officials in this state have failed Virginia and they have tarnished our state's reputation through their unethical behavior… We need a change in Virginia's ethics laws. …
Ken Cuccinelli and Bob McDonnell have shown we can't expect everyone to do the right thing…but we can make it harder and more costly to violate ethics rules. It's no wonder that the Center for Public Integrity gave the Commonwealth an F grade on corruption risk, ranking Virginia 47 out of 50 states. In the face of serious ethics and conflicts of interest violations, there has been a lot of hot air about serious reforms, but nothing has fundamentally changed. Back in 2009, Del. Phil Hamilton resigned…then-Senator Ken Cuccinelli was the only candidate not to call for Hamilton's resignation…Hamilton was later convicted and is now serving 114 months in prison…
The most recent and very public scandal involving Gov. McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's cozy relationship with Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams has brought embarrassment to our state and her residents. And now, Bob McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli are going to propose reforms?!? Virginians deserve better. That's why I'm rolling out my plan to you today that restores integrity to our state government…
…I'd like to…remind everyone that last night, my opponent said he would leave it up to political calculus as to whether Ken Cuccinelli should repay the roughly $18,000 in gifts he took from Jonnie Williams. I think Ken Cuccinelli should return the gifts, period. There's no consideration of politics here. And it just shows you what type of Attorney General Mark Obenshain would be. [Obenshain] would continue the political games that Ken Cuccinelli brought to the office. He has the same "politics first" approach as Cuccinelli.
Herring also ran through highlights of his ethics overhaul plan: Create an Independent Statewide Ethics Commission Limit Gifts and Strengthen Disclosure Requirements Root out, Punish and Deter Corruption and Conflicts of Interest Prohibit Using Campaign Contributions for Personal Expenses *Expand Public Access to Government Records For the full plan, click here. Also, see the press release below.
HERRING ANNOUNCES ENHANCED ETHICS AGENDA TO RESTORE INTEGRITY IN STATE GOVERNMENT
Obenshain says politicians need to weigh 'political calculus' to determine whether or not they should do the right thing
Democratic candidate for Attorney General Mark Herring announced his plan today to reform and strengthen Virginia’s ethics laws. On a press call this morning, Herring laid out his vision for sweeping changes to Virginia’s outdated and ineffective ethics and conflict-of-interest laws.
Herring’s plan can be found on his website, http://www.HerringForAG.com/EthicsPlan.
"The two top elected officials in the state have failed Virginians and they have tarnished our state’s reputation through their unethical behavior. Virginia's system relied on lax laws, and the integrity and ethics of our Governor and Attorney General, and it didn't work. We need a change in Virginia's ethics laws. Ken Cuccinelli and Bob McDonnell have shown we can't expect everyone to do the right thing. We can't legislate honesty, but we can make it harder, and more costly to do the wrong thing," Herring said.
Serious lapses in ethical judgment by Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have undermined the public trust and hampered the effectiveness of state government.
Herring went on to criticize his opponent Senator Mark Obenshain for leading from behind on this issue.
Yesterday, Obenshain said that politicians should consider the “political calculus” of whether or not they should do the right thing.
“Virginia government is facing an ethics crisis that requires real leadership and meaningful action from elected officials. Mark Obenshain wants to let political calculus determine the state’s accountability. Mark Obenshain made it clear yesterday he will continue Ken Cuccinelli’s politics-first approach,” Herring said. "As Attorney General, I am committed to returning credibility to the office, accountability to our state government and restoring the public trust.”
As Virginia’s next Attorney General, Mark Herring will work proactively to prevent corruption, hold elected officials accountable and restore the public trust. Included in his “Restoring Integrity to State Government” plan (attached with this release), Mark Herring outlines his plan to clean up the ethical mess in Richmond:
- Creating a State Ethics Commission to administer and enforce all of Virginia’s ethics rules and conflict of interest laws. The Commission would be made up of several appointed public officials. It will have professional staff and would be empowered to undertake investigations and hold hearings regarding alleged violations of ethics and conflicts of interest laws. One of the Commission’s first orders of business would be a full review of Virginia’s ethics and conflict of interest rules.
- Limiting Gifts and Strengthening Disclosure Requirements, such as imposing a $100 limit and full disclosure on gifts from any business, organization or person, other than a relative to elected officials and their immediate family members. Mark would also work to prevent public officials or their immediate family members from receiving gifts from lobbyists, their employers and those with business before the Commonwealth. This proposal also includes the requirement to fully disclose corporate loans, fully identify creditors and post disclosures to a single online location within ten days.
- Root out, Punish, and Deter Corruption and Conflicts of Interest by requiring independent audits of financial disclosures by the State Ethics Commission and increased penalties for officeholders who violate conflict of interest and campaign finance disclosure laws.
- Prohibit the Use of Campaign Contributions for Personal Expenses. Mark will work with legislators to pass a law that stops elected officials and candidates from using campaign funds for personal expenses.
- Expand Public Access to Government Records by clarifying that the Attorney General’s office must honor FOIA requests and expanding the scope of FOIA to cover the State Corporation.