March 3, 2015
ProgressVA Education Fund today released a new report examining the impact of HB2070 on gifts to legislators and the loopholes in the bill. The report is available online here.
"This bill is really one step forward and two steps back," said ProgressVA executive director Anna Scholl. "On the surface a new, lower gift limit is progress but the devil is in the details and the details of HB2070 allow for multiple exemptions and loopholes from gift rules."
According to ProgressVA Education Fund's analysis, 79% of gifts reported by legislators in 2014 would not be impacted by the bill, including 69% of gifts from lobbyists. ProgressVA Education Fund could not determine the legality of approximately 10% of lobbyist gifts without additional information.
The report identifies a significant new loophole that would exclude some travel, such as to conferences hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, from regulation and disclosure. "This loophole essentially allows the Speaker and Senate Rules Committee to exempt gifts from regulation or disclosure by approving attendance at a conference," said Scholl. "The public's business should be conducted in the light of day."
The report also examines changes to the list of individuals and businesses prohibited from gifting and the impact of changes in how the gift cap is calculated. HB2070 would eliminate the aggregate gift cap in favor of a limit on the amount of a single gift. In effect, the bill would allow any special interest to provide an unlimited number of gifts below the $100 cap.
Also highlighted are reforms recommended by the Governor's blue-ribbon reform commission and rejected by the General Assembly. HB2070 does not empower the ethics council to randomly audit filings, receive and investigate signed complaints, and refer those filings for prosecution. The Council is empowered to approved waivers for privately-sponsored travel, but those waivers are not required to be publicly posted.
A full copy of the report is available online here. For a copy of a recording of today's teleconference, please contact Anna Scholl.