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As a parting gift, Gov. McDonnell’s legacy could be what Virginians always wanted: an ethics commission.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Gov. Bob McDonnell’s reputation is cracking faster than the wristband on a Casio watch. Not that the governor would wear such an item. For him, it’s a $6,500 Rolex, engraved with the inscription “71st Governor of Virginia,” that his friend Jonnie Williams allegedly bought at the first lady’s request for her to give to her husband. Her ask, The Washington Post reports, came moments before a meeting she had arranged between Williams and a top state health official for him to pitch the benefits of his products.
The governor, naturally, does not want to talk about the watch or any of the other gifts, including a New York designer shopping spree for Maureen McDonnell, that are being unearthed during a probe into gifts he’s received while in office.
“What I would say to everybody is that I wish that I could say more about this, but given the [federal and state criminal] reviews that are being done, that’s probably all I can say at this point,” McDonnell said during his monthly show Thursday on Richmond’s WRVA radio.
Though ethically disturbing, technically, there may be nothing illegal about a businessman involved in a legal dispute with the state over taxes giving luxury gifts to the governor and his family and inviting them and the attorney general’s family to vacation at his Smith Mountain Lake home.
Still, it stinks.
Under Virginia law, there are no limits on gifts an office holder may receive, the only string being that he disclose them. Gifts to family and gifts from friends are exempt from disclosure, allowing office holders a wide loophole to slip through.
There are no clear black-and-white rules to follow, and there is not an ethics commission to focus in on all the fuzzy shades of gray. There needs to be both.
The General Assembly has been reluctant to endorse an ethics commission or bans and limitations on gifts. Members, too, would need to give up things like trips to France underwritten by a uranium company. Such excursions, they claim, inform rather than influence their votes. Besides, it saves the taxpayers money.
So, too, do all those trips on private jets. No favors there to be called in some day. Trust us, they say.
Trust is no longer among the gifts Virginians desire to give. Instead, elected officials should bear these gifts: strict rules that prohibit accepting all but token gestures, and an independent ethics commission to make sure they do not trade the influence of their office for shiny baubles.
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