12 INVESTIGATES: Key figures disclose new gifts on public record
RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - In the wake of a scandal at the Governor's Mansion, eight public figures, including key members of the Governor's staff and the Attorney General, have gone back and changed their financial disclosure forms, suddenly adding new gifts to the public record.
By law, elected officials must fill out a financial disclosure form to report gifts, like Redskins tickets, flights or overnight stays, so you can see who's shmoozing with politicians.
Virginia does not put the forms online and they are not scrutinized by any agency. In fact, nobody paid much attention to the financial disclosure forms, until news broke that Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams paid $15,0000 for the catering at the wedding reception for Governor Bob McDonnell's daughter.
From that moment, two lawmakers, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and four members of the Governor's inner circle have gone back and changed their disclosure forms.
Cuccinelli added $5,100 in gifts from Jonnie Williams. He called the omissions an accident but asked Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring to investigate.
Jacob Jason Eige is the Counselor and Senior policy advisor to the Governor. He added a flight/trip worth $2,107 to the American Legislative Exchange Council. He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Out of an abundance of caution, after reviewing my report again, I decided to report it, even though it was paid for from our office budget for work-related conferences, trips etc."
Martin Kent is Chief of Staff to the Governor. He added $150 in wine he received from the King Family. He has since said the gift was "inadvertently" left off.
Janet Kelly is the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Her office collects the disclosure forms for the Governor's Office. She added two trips from Jonnie Williams worth $2,400 total and a flight to Myrtle Beach worth $700. She told the Richmond Times Dispatch, "Due to recent events, I decided to review my most recent report to ensure that it was as comprehensive as possible."
Tucker Martin is the Governor's Press Secretary. He added six previously unreported trips. He said he added the gifts out of an "abundance of caution" to comply with Virginia's financial disclosure rules.
University of Richmond ethics and law professor Hank Chambers describes Virginia's disclosure law as "Swiss cheese."
"The idea that one can give a significant gift to a member of the governor's family and have that not get reported at all is a little odd," said Chambers.
He points out not reporting gifts to family members is not against the law in Virginia at this time. He says other states have stricter rules.
In a study released last year by the Center for Public Integrity, Virginia got an "F" and ranks in the top 5 out of 50 states for risk of corruption. According to the study, Virginia is one of nine states without an ethics commission, one of four with no limits on campaign contributions, and Virginia has no limits on gifts.
The two candidates for Governor have both said they believe changes need to be made to the gift-giving law.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe wants to ban gifts over $100 dollars.
"By enacting a ban on gifts over $100 to Virginia's elected officials, we can aim to avoid conflicts of interest going forward," he said.
Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli supports stricter reporting for gifts over $500 and for the information to be put online.
"I think we need to get into the 21st century on that, so we'll set it up so people can do it from home and keep track of it from home," said Cuccinelli.
Just this week, a Virginia lawmaker stepped into the fray. Republican Bob Marshall says he's going to propose a law requiring public officials to report gifts to family members.
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