As we predicted in January, the Virginia General Assembly has passed an ethics reform law and sent it to Governor Terry McAuliffe who can sign it into law, veto it, or propose amendments and return it to the General Assembly for further action. If signed into law, it will supplement the executive order limiting gifts in the executive branch that we blogged about here earlier this year. Among other changes, the bill:
- Shifts lobbyist reports and public official financial disclosures to a semiannual, rather than an annual, filing;
- Lowers the disclosure level for many financial interests from $10,000 to $5,000 and includes family members in some disclosures;
- Increases disclosure for officials who are involved in meetings, conferences, or events related to their official duties; and
- Imposes a $250 annual limit on “tangible” gifts to officials from any one lobbyist, lobbyist principal, or person having or seeking government contracts. This limit does not include most entertainment, hospitality, tickets, transportation, lodging, and meals.
Some have criticized the bill’s weaknesses, and it is true that, other than the gift limit, it does not impose any drastic new restrictions. In fact, the executive order will apply stricter gift rules to executive branch officials in many cases. The bill does, however, increase the frequency and detail of disclosure. For example, information about lawmakers’ participation in conferences hosted by corporations or agenda-driven groups will be more easily accessible to those who would make a political issue of it. Lobbying disclosures will be available closer in time to when the lobbying happens, and some pre-General Assembly session lobbying will be disclosed before the session begins. If the bill becomes law, individuals and corporations active in Virginia politics should be mindful of the increased disclosure and gift limit, and consider how the law affects their plans moving forward.