While you must applaud the leadership on gift limitations imposed by the new Governor and Attorney General, they are largely symbolic. There are no specific penalties for policy violations. Only because this is an “at will” state are these enforceable. But what is a gift? Who is a friend?
As Bob McDonnell learned, you don’t always know who your friends are. Thanks to an embarrassing amendment to the Virginia Constitution championed by Bob Marshall and his ilk, we don’t even know when a spouse is a spouse (even though we really know). And while the order may have a chilling effect on corruption in the executive, for the legislature and judiciary it is business as usual.
…Travel that does not serve a “legitimate public purpose” falls under the cap, as do loans, lodging, meals, services, special discounts and entertainment unless it is a ticket to a Virginia school or government event.
Gifts from personal friends, private business relationships and family members are excluded from the cap. So are financial aid, invitations from an official or candidate to political events, tickets that go unused, gifts that are returned unused within 60 days, retirement gifts from government agencies, honorary degrees, awards from civic or religious groups and competition prizes. – as reported in the Washington Post
What is “legitimate?” A “scholarship” to attend an ALEC meeting? I have to tell you, someone who gives me, say, $100,000 is going to be my close personal friend and we are going to have whatever private business relationship they desire. As Richard Nixon once explained, you just can’t place a value on some “gifts.”
This is only a start. I understand. But that three-member Executive Branch Ethics Commission that will investigate alleged violations and recommend disciplinary action hasn’t even the rudimentary precedents necessary to conduct investigations or base judgments. I’d rather be on a Chinese icebreaker in the Antarctic.
Let’s hope this is a first step toward a real Ethics Commission with more than just a bark and that the legislature recognizes the leadership it represents.