The Herald-Progress

Follow Us On:

Editorial: Ethics reform?

Posted on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Virginia’s General Assembly is making good on promises to focus its attention on ethics reform in the wake of one of the biggest political scandals to hit the commonwealth.

Bills passed through both the House and Senate this week that would bolster transparency and strengthen disclosure requirements for office-holders. The legislation prohibits gifts above $250 to legislators and reduces a number of disclosure thresholds from $10,000 to $5,000. The House Bill also makes gifts to immediate family members subject to disclosure.

These actions make sense and we applaud our legislators’ efforts in the Capitol. The 55th District’s own freshman delegate, Buddy Fowler, is a copatron of the House bill and two of Hanover’s state senators – Ryan McDougle and Walter Stosch – signed on to the senate version.

But in addition to disclosure requirements and gift caps, both bills also create a 14-member “Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council,” tasked with reviewing and posting online disclosure forms filed by lobbyists and politicians while also offering formal opinions, informal advice education and training.

While this sounds good at face value, the members of this committee are mere political appointees. The  speaker of the house, Senate rules committee and governor each appoint four members and the attorney general gets one appointment. They’re also proposing a lobbyist from the Virginia Association of Counties or Virginia Municipal League be allowed membership on this committee.

Political appointees policing politicians – sure.

It would be hard to take this council seriously, especially when we’ve seen what happens when party politics creeps into “government accountability.”

Former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, await their day in court on a slew of federal indictments alleging they accepted gifts and money in exchange for the use of Virginia’s top office.

While they have yet to be found guilty, or innocent for that matter, the scandal has left a black eye on Virginia politics.

In the wake of the state’s biggest ethics scandal in modern times, what we don’t need is a cabal of political cronies making ethical judgment calls.