RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe says he’ll be actively promoting measures in this year’s legislative session aimed at strengthening the state’s ethics rules and making it easier to vote, priorities that will likely face a difficult path forward in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
McAuliffe said Tuesday he also supports legislation to ban lawmakers from using their campaign accounts for personal use, calling the move a necessary complement to a $100 gift cap that lawmakers approved earlier in his term.
“There has been a gigantic, gaping hole in our ethics reform here in the commonwealth of Virginia,” McAuliffe said, promising to “lean in” on the issue even though it faces dim prospects.
Lawmakers enacted a $100 gift limit after embarrassing details emerged about former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family taking luxury gifts from an executive who was seeking state support for his business selling a tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory product.
But good government advocates said the limits have done little to change the political culture: Instead of spoiling lawmakers with sports tickets and vacations, businesses, special interests and other big donors are helping subsidize luxurious fundraisers and padding campaign accounts for lawmakers who rarely face tough reelection campaigns.
Virginia has one of the least restrictive and policed campaign finance systems in the country, with lawmakers only barred from using campaign funds for personal use once they close out their accounts.
An Associated Press review of the state’s campaign finance system last year found that some lawmakers frequently use campaign accounts to pay for expensive meals and hotels, as well as personal expenses like gas and cellphone bills.
Similar legislation banning personal use was scuttled last session and legislative leaders have shown little appetite for changing the state’s campaign finance system.
The governor also wants to allow for in-person early voting as well as increase the reasons why a person, including those after children, can vote absentee by mail.
McAuliffe was joined by his wife, Dorothy, to promote the legislation.
“As the very blessed mother of five children, all of whom were under the age 10 at one point, I know how difficult it can be, whether caring for one child or many, to get to the polls and stand in line to vote,” Dorothy McAuliffe said.
The governor also wants to repeal the state’s voter ID law, which he said limits voting accessibility and is unnecessary because “there is no voter fraud” in Virginia.
Republicans reacted swiftly to that proposal and signaled that it had no chance of passage.
“It is unfortunate that Governor McAuliffe wants to repeal a commonsense law that protects the integrity of the ballot box,” House Speaker William J. Howell said in a statement.
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