‘Giftgate’ prompts ethics reform

From The News Virginia: RICHMOND — Virginia has historically prided itself on its relative lack of government scandals.

But recent events — namely when Gov. Bob McDonnell accepted significant gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams — have prompted concern over the state’s system of ethical checks and balances, leaving some to question whether the law goes far enough in holding its governing officials financially accountable.

This question was a highlighted at a statewide meeting of media organizations Wednesday, where a panel of experts debated the solution to the ethics dilemma.

During the discussion, Nicholas Kusnetz, a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, said while Virginia doesn’t have a long record of ethical problems in its government, it also has some of the most lax laws when it comes to restricting and overseeing political gifts. These loopholes, he explained, are part of what led to the Star Scientific scandal — or "Giftgate," as it is now being called.

Megan Rhyne, executive director for the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, agreed, saying, "The McDonnell case showed us that what’s legal may not always be what’s right."

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The Virginia Coalition for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. –eds