by Stephen D. Haner
The Virginia Public Access Board of Directors is out with its five-point ethics reform proposal and it underwhelms. During my term on that board it became quite clear that the group would never advocate any change that created angst for the General Assembly members or the lobbyists who to seek to influence them. Perhaps I am wrong to expect otherwise.
VPAP confines its suggestions to “technical and practical” changes that will make VPAP’s job easier and its product more valuable. Make all filings electronic or use machine readable forms, align the deadlines better. The only substantive proposals are to require almost immediate reporting of undefined “particularly large campaign donations or gifts” and to make the definitions of what must be reported more specific. But more specific and more frequent doesn’t necessarily mean more transparent. It could easily become more specific, more frequent and less transparent.
VPAP says nothing about expanding the reporting requirements to immediate family members. It says nothing about closing the outrageous loophole whereby a lobbyist can charge a legislator’s travel or meals to multiple clients and claim with a straight face no one tripped the reporting requirement. VPAP says nothing about auditing the reports, allowing the Secretary of the Commonwealth to kick them back for changes, or increasing the penalty for a false, incomplete or misleading report.
And those are the easy ideas. Should Virginia ban all but nominal gifts or entertainment expenses? Should the campaign finance laws add restrictions on the use of campaign committee funds? I don’t like the idea of an ethics commission but it is worth discussing.
Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe ticked off five major legislative priorities while addressing the Virginia Chamber of Commerce in Williamsburg yesterday. Ethics reform was the final one mentioned, but not with the detail or passion he showed in discussing early childhood education and Medicaid expansion. And frankly, his pushing it may be counterproductive – the initiative should come from the legislators themselves.
My newspaper background always asserts itself at this time, much to the dismay of my fellow laborers in the lobbying vineyard. As a 30-year observer and participant in the legislative process, I’m very interested in the integrity of that process. Sunshine disinfects. VPAP had a chance to exert some leadership and passed. With the Virginia statehouse press corps on life support and everybody else invested in the status quo, absent a huge push from the public there may be little or no real change. There needs to be a silver lining in this cloud that has enveloped Virginia politics this year.
Stephen D. Haner is a lobbyist, doing business as Black Walnut Strategies.There are currently no comments highlighted.