NEW IN TOWN: Gov. Terry McAuliffe gives his inaugural speech on Jan. 11.
By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA — In wake of the gift-giving scandal involving former Gov. Bob McDonnell and a wealthy businessman, Terry McAuliffe campaigned on banning gifts over $100 to himself and family members.
And the Democrat followed through with an executive order to that effect on the day he took the oath of office as governor.
But he didn’t publicize that, unlike his other three executive orders so far, the$100 gift ban one expires after one calendar year. Unless it’s extended, the gift ban will expire on Jan. 12, 2015. It’s noted at the bottom of the document, his second executive order, posted on his website.
“This executive order shall be effective upon signing and shall remain in full force and effect for one full calendar year following its signing, unless amended or rescinded, or reauthorized, by further executive order,” the document reads.
McAuliffe’s first executive order prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, by contrast, “shall remain in full force and effect until amended or rescinded by further executive order.” Two other executive orders related to governing in cases of emergencies last until January 2018, after McAuliffe leaves office.
McAuliffe’s office didn’t respond to Watchdog.org inquiries on Monday.
While campaigning, McAuliffe pledged to restrict gifts, even if the General Assembly didn’t follow through with any legislation.
But it isn’t clear if ethics reforms will include the governor.
Discussions surrounding an ethics compromise reached by Democratic and Republican members of the General Assembly haven’t included the executive branch, according to Carmen Bingham, chief of staff for Democratic Delegate David Toscano, of Charlottesville. But a leading Republican delegate’s office said the compromise would include any employee who falls under the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act, which would seem to include the governor.
On its face, the House ethics package is weaker than McAuliffe’s order.
The House package caps gifts at $250 instead of $100. And while McAuliffe’s cap prohibits most travel, the House’s suggested gift cap doesn’t. And there is no penalty for breaking the proposed restrictions.
“Travel is at the heart of what we receive, and this is like Swiss cheese,” state Sen. Chap Peterson, a Democrat from Fairfax, said of the House ethics package last week.
Of course, if the General Assembly doesn’t pass legislation covering the governor, McAuliffe’s executive order will expire in one year. without further action.
Attorney General Mark Herring’s office announced over the weekend that its staff members are drafting a gifts-cap policy that mirrors McAuliffe’s for the attorney general and his roughly 400 staff members.
“The reason that we wanted to model it closely on Governor McAuliffe’s executive order is that it is spelled out, for uniformity — because he spelled it out in his executive order,” said Ellen Qualls, interim spokeswoman for Herring.
Qualls said there aren’t details yet on what sort of consequences might follow breaking the policy capping gifts to the attorney general and his staff members, but mentioned that the executive branch ethics commission McAuliffe established through his executive order would handle any discrepancies.
Republican Delegate Bob Marshall said he still can’t see how McAuliffe will be able to keep his pledge to not accept travel funds, especially when it comes to political events.
“He didn’t need an executive order,” said Marshall, who has proposed a handful of ethics reform bills this session. “He could have just said he’s not accepting anything over $100. But I don’t see how he keeps it.”
— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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