Due to the weather, some customers may experience late delivery of The Roanoke Times. We apologize for the delay.
Cuccinelli says he forgot to disclose big-ticket gifts but promises amnesia won’t cancel proposed ethics reforms.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
In Virginia, elected officials aren’t asked to do much to comply with the state’s embarrassingly weak ethics laws.
Officeholders can accept unlimited gifts but must disclose items with a value greater than $50. Those who have fought restrictions on dinners, football tickets, plane rides and other favors heaped on executive and legislative officials argue that disclosure is the best disinfectant. But, sometimes, public officials have trouble complying with even the flimsiest of standards.
On Friday afternoon — the perfect time for a politician to dump bad news — Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced that he had received more gifts from Star Scientific executive Jonnie Williams Sr. than the nearly $13,000 in largesse he had previously disclosed. Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor, failed to account for two stays at Williams’ Smith Mountain Lake home. One of those getaways with his family came with a catered Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of Williams.
“I declared everything I remembered when I filled out the forms,” Cuccinelli told reporters. “It happens that some of the things I forgot were Jonnie Williams related.”
Some of the things? Yes, there’s more. Cuccinelli also “forgot” to disclose $7,751 in air travel from Alpha Natural Resources in 2010 and another $795 in travel expenses from the Federation of American Coal Energy and Security to speak at a Southwest Virginia rally last year.
Cuccinelli said that, if elected, he’ll propose more immediate reporting of gifts worth $500 or more and close a disclosure loophole that exempts gifts to officials’ immediate family members. He would make the state police, not the attorney general’s office, responsible for reviewing the AG’s financial disclosures.
Cuccinelli’s call for tougher reporting requirements would carry more weight if he didn’t take a dog-ate-my-homework approach to complying with a law that is on the books now. The latest ethics flap came on the same day that Cuccinelli filed a brief in Richmond Circuit Court seeking to recuse his office from the embezzlement case against a former chef at the governor’s mansion because a potential key witness now works for a fundraising firm connected to his gubernatorial campaign.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe said last week that he would issue an executive order prohibiting the governor and his immediate family from accepting gifts greater than $100. He would ask the General Assembly to enact an identical ban for legislative and executive branch officers. Lobbyists and others with business before the state would be banned from giving gifts to legislators and statewide officeholders.
The General Assembly hasn’t been shamed into passing meaningful ethics reforms, and Gov. Bob McDonnell never followed through on a promise to create an independent ethics panel. So when the men running to succeed McDonnell promise to drain the swamp, we say we’ll believe it when we see it.
Weather JournalMany very icy despite 'bust' claims