‘Integrity’ panel has opportunity to check guv’s fund


EYE ON ETHICS: Former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and former U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher convene the inaugural meeting of the governor’s Commission to Ensure Integrity and Public Confidence on Monday.

By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

RICHMOND, Va. — When Terry McAuliffe’s Commission to Ensure Integrity and Public Confidence compiles its legislative agenda, the panel could start by revoking one of his vetoes and resurrecting an ethics bill concerning the governor’s office.

The Governor’s Opportunity Fund has given $199.4 million to new or expanding companies since 1994. McAuliffe this year vetoed legislation that would curb personal or political contributions from GOF recipients.

The GOF disbursed more than $7.4 million to firms in fiscal 2014. That does not include $5 million McAuliffe pledged this month to help Richmond build a brewery on the James River for California-based Stone Brewing Co., or the $5 million he granted to China’s Shandong Tranlin Paper Co. for a mill downriver in Chesterfield County.

Only one other $5 million grant was recorded in the 20-year history of the Opportunity Fund.

This year’s General Assembly passed House Bill 1212 to prohibit the governor or any of his political committees from soliciting or accepting donations or gifts worth $50 or more from anyone seeking to tap the GOF, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported last May. Despite HB 1212’s unanimous approval, McAuliffe’s veto was not overridden.

BRING THEM BACK: Two ethics bills by Democratic Delegate Scott Surovell appear to be right in the integrity commission’s wheelhouse.

Another ethics bill — Rep. Scott Surovell‘s “Conflict of Interests Act” — would have barred any business or contractual relationships between the governor and his appointees while serving in office.

Reasonable as that may sound, HB 245 died in the House Courts of Justice Committee last session.

Surovell, a Mount Vernon Democrat, says he is maxed out on the number of bills he can introduce next year. So the idea could be picked up by other lawmakers — or McAuliffe’s Commission.

The integrity commission, headed by former Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher and former Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, is officially tasked “with recommending good government reforms, including meaningful rules for the ethical conduct of state officials, procedures for ensuring accountability to the electorate, and policies guiding the selection and service of high-quality public servants.”

“I look forward to the commission’s recommendations,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “I am confident that the efforts of these 10 men and women will help to generate bipartisan support for broad-based reforms to Virginia’s ethics laws.”

The commission met for the first time Monday in Richmond. On Nov. 6, the panel will take public comments at a forum scheduled for 6 p.m. at the University of Virginia. The public can also comment at the commission website.

In the aftermath of former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s conviction on corruption charges, Bolling said, “Congressman Boucher and I are committed to providing a comprehensive set of recommendations designed to restore Virginians’ trust in their state government and their leaders.”

On that score, the Integrity commission could also revive a Surovell bill to curb political contributions from firms bidding on public-private projects. That measure was killed at the 2011 General Assembly.

Other members of the panel are former state Delegate Viola Baskerville; Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova; former University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III; Hampden-Sydney College President Christopher Howard; Vice President for Advancement at George Washington’s Mount Vernon campus, Susan A. Magill; attorney and former Assistant Attorney General Courtney M. Malveaux; former Delegate Joe T. May; and former President and CEO of BB&T Scott & Stringfellow Inc. John Sherman Jr.

Kenric Ward is a national reporter for Watchdog.org and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at (571) 319-9824.