- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Republican-controlled General Assembly appear to agree they need to toughen Virginia’s public ethics laws, but they disagree on how tough they should be.

Lawmakers have introduced dozens of ethics bills in the wake of former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s conviction on public corruption charges last year. The first public airing of those proposals came Monday at a meeting of a House ethics subcommittee.

The key sticking point appears to be McAuliffe’s proposal for an independent ethics review commission that would investigate alleged violations and, if warranted, refer them for prosecution.

The governor’s proposal is carried by Democratic Del. Jennifer McClellan of Richmond.

A rival measure from Republican Del. Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah County proposes an advisory ethics council that would not have such sweeping powers.



Gilbert said lawmakers from both parties have expressed concerns that an independent commission with subpoena power might engage in witch hunts and vendettas.

McClellan said the commission she proposes would be bipartisan, with neither party in control.

But Gilbert said any hope that such a group could be truly nonpartisan is “naive at best.”

Democrats and Republicans seem to be closer together on other ethics measures.

Both McClellan and Gilbert would reduce the current $250 cap on gifts to public officials to $100. And both would eliminate the exemption in current law that places no cap on so-called “intangible” gifts such as meals, travel and entertainment.

The Republican-led House panel will reconvene Wednesday to hammer out a detailed proposal. Similar legislation is pending in the state Senate.

McDonnell was sentenced last month to two years in federal prison for soliciting more than $175,000 in loans, gifts and luxury vacations in exchange for promoting a diet supplement from the Governor’s Mansion. He will remain free while appealing his conviction, a federal court ruled last month.

The ex-governor’s wife, Maureen, who was also convicted, faces sentencing later this month. She is also appealing.

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