- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

Virginia lawmakers last year accepted more than $284,000 worth of gratuities and gifts as varied as tickets to pro football games and NASCAR races, junkets to Taiwan and bear hunts in Quebec, and $200 dinners.

That total exceeds by 25 percent the value of gifts made to the General Assembly’s 100 delegates and 40 senators in 2003, according to a computer analysis of reports legislators filed with the House and Senate clerks.

Legislators are required to report gifts exceeding $50 in value or exceeding $100 in aggregate worth from the same source during a year. The nonprofit and nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project compiled information from the report into a computer database.

The most expensive gifts were thousands of dollars paid to send legislative leaders abroad, either on informational tours or to hunt bear or caribou.

House Minority Leader Franklin P. Hall, Richmond Democrat, reported the most pricey single trip: a $7,500 visit to Ukraine last summer, courtesy of the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, a nonpartisan group composed of all Senate presidents, house speakers, majority and minority leaders from legislatures across the nation.

“That was the trip of a lifetime,” Mr. Hall said of his visit with the Massachusetts-based SLLF to Ukraine.

Mr. Hall also visited Taipei, Taiwan, last year, a trip worth $6,000, courtesy of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative’s Office. His Republican counterpart, House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, reported the value of the same trip at $4,314.

The Virginia Sheriffs’ Association prefers hunting trips for bonding with lawmakers, and it treated Republican Sens. Kenneth W. Stolle and Thomas K. Norment Jr. to outings in Canada worth about $6,300 each.

“We went to Quebec. We hunted bear and caribou,” Mr. Norment said of his September trip. “Ken and I get all the attention every year because we are among the few who like to hunt.”

They also reported a May hunting trip valued at $2,102, also underwritten by the Sheriffs’ Association.

The largest aggregate givers were the House and the Senate themselves, usually payment for attendance at seminars or meetings of national legislative organizations, such as the National Council of State Legislatures. The Senate paid about $37,000 and the House paid about $36,000.

Nobody attended more conferences than Sen. Yvonne B. Miller, Norfolk Democrat. Though none of her trips was as expensive or as exotic as Ukraine or Taipei, Miss Miller reported gifts totaling slightly more than $17,000 in value, most of them to conferences, meetings and seminars focusing on governance or politics.

“I am an educator by profession, and I go to conferences to learn,” she said. “I learn more at a conference than I could reading for six months.”

This column is based in part on wire service reports.

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