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December 4, 2013

Governor-elect promises ethics reform, transparency

Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe.

By James K. Galloway

VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D) said Wednesday that he would push for greater transparency and ethics reforms in state government.

Mr. McAuliffe spoke to a roomful of journalists after a panel discussion on political journalism ethics and political finance and gift-disclosure organized by the Associated Press.

The Northern Virginia businessman said he “would be inclined” to “issue an executive order” to waive the fees currently charged to citizens and journalists requesting government documents under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Under the federal FOIA, federal officials can waive the often-prohibitive costs of a public records request if it pertains directly to the public good, but the state does not.

“It’s the first I’ve been asked this question,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “I think it’s a great idea. I will take it back and talk to my transition team about it.”

The governor-elect said he was not aware that Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act lacks a provision to allow fees to be waived if the FOIA request is in the public interest.

Echoing President Obama’s campaign slogans, Mr. McAuliffe said he would set a new standard of “transparent, accountable, state government that is beholden only to the taxpayers who fund it.”

He added, “Virginians should never have to question who their leaders are putting first.”

The best way to ensure political transparency, Mr. McAuliffe said, is to issue an executive order limiting gifts to politicians to no more than $100, increasing penalties for violating current disclosure laws and eliminating conflicts of interest; however, Mr. McAuliffe did not offer details about how the order would achieve those ends.

The Democrat said his almost-daily talks with outgoing Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell often extend into weekends, facilitating what he called “the smoothest transition ever” as he prepares to take office.

In spite of their talks, however, Mr. McAuliffe said he knew only as much as the newspapers have reported about the federal investigation of Gov. McDonnell’s relationship with a dietary-supplement manufacturer.

Mr. McAuliffe spoke to about 50 journalists at AP Day at the Capital. The event, held at the Richmond Times-Dispatch offices, was organized by Virginia AP Managing Editors, the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association and the Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Also speaking at the event was Republican Del. Bob Marshall of Manassas. He said not all secrecy is bad, citing the 1776 Constitutional Convention that took place behind closed doors without public oversight.

Del. Marshall said people behave differently when they know they’re being watched, and limiting gifts to $100 would “force political activity underground.”

Del. Marshall said a “no gifts” policy would lead to prosecutions for unreported golf tips, information and special discounts; for example, getting a car at half price because of a person’s status as a politician. Del. Marshall said whether a politician received discounts is “not in the public interest.”
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Freestate Steve · December 5, 2013 at 4:59 pm
This from a guy who's party bought the governors seat with a cool $15mil and who has made a career in getting people to part with their money - some of which was no doubt used to fund HIS candidacy!

Does he think we are fools? Oh...wait...never mind.
meckert · December 5, 2013 at 2:45 pm
"Echoing President Obama’s campaign slogans, Mr. McAuliffe said he would set a new standard of “transparent, accountable, state government that is beholden only to the taxpayers who fund it.”

What a joke that promise has get what you vote for.
locke · December 4, 2013 at 7:34 pm
Three cheers for government transparency! I didn't vote for McAuliffe, but with policies like this it might be easy to learn to like this guy.

As for Delegate Marshall's statement that some secrecy is needed, that is also true. After all, there are a million exceptions already built into the Freedom of Information Act, most of which probably have a good reason to be there. That is all irrelevant, though, to whether or not it should be a costly and difficult process to access the information that should be available to the public through the FOIA.

Regarding Marshall's claims about the "no gift policy" being harmful to "political activity", I think he really means this could be harmful to politicians. It would be really terrible, after all, if they no longer had a million legal ways to benefit financially from their position as our elected leaders. With that, what would be the point of going into politics - serving the public good?! That is a truly terrible thought...

Also contrary to Marshall's ideas, it really is "in the public interest" to have access to information about whether or not our politicians are getting a car at half price or some other major benefit. I want to know exactly who our politicians are indebted to other than their constituents.
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