12 News Investigation: Is McAuliffe keeping his promise?

Published: Sep. 29, 2014 at 7:05 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 9, 2014 at 3:07 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Never has political gift giving been more in the spotlight in Virginia. As the dust still settles from the McDonnell trial verdict, we take a look at how Gov. Terry McAuliffe has quietly been dealing with his own self-imposed gift giving limits.

Through an open records request, On Your Side Investigator Rachel DePompa got a unique look inside the Executive Mansion and whether gifts are still accepted without question.

You might say the governor's taking his-self imposed gift limit to the extreme, even writing checks to billion dollar organizations. basically saying thanks-- but your gift was just too pricey.

McAuliffe has said it over and over. "I put a $100 gift ban on myself, my family, my administration and their families." It's one of his first official decisions after taking office, no gifts over 100 dollars for his administration. Through an open records request we've discovered so far he's following his own rules.

McAuliffe sent three letters this summer to would-be gift-givers. One went to billionaire Dan Snyder-- owner of the Washington Redskins. The Redskins gave the governor a jacket he was seen wearing at training camp in Richmond. The team also gave him a customized jersey. Their value? $299.95 and $209.95.

McAuliffe wrote the Redskins a personal check for $409.90 to bring the value of the clothes under $100.

He reimbursed the Orioles and millionaire Owner Peter Angelos $100 for two tickets to an O's game.

And he gave a Reston businessman a check for $344.15 for a Neiman Marcus scarf the man gave to the First Lady.

Deidre Condit, associate professor and chair of VCU's political science department, says McAuliffe's letters are unique. They mark a change I think in Virginia politics," she said. "I think that depends on the Virginia legislature. I think if the Virginia legislature really decides that they want to put teeth in ethics reform then we're going to see lots of this.

Condit said unlike Bob McDonnell or Tim Kaine, McAulife came to office a multimillionaire..It probably was not taxing on him to agree to the $100 maximum and then to write the checks back. His other choice was to give them back," she said.

She says social scientists have studies this and shown over and over. It's not the value of a gift that often leaves an impact on a person. It's actually the exchange itself that leaves the biggest impression.  "Gifts of food. Let me take you to a restaurant. I'll buy your lunch," she said, "actually has a huge impact on your sense of obligation to me." 

"This $100 limit is really, it's an effort but it doesn't reach the problem at all, and you're going to continue to see this until we decide public officials can't or shouldn't' except gifts at all," she said.

McAuliffe and several lawmakers plan to introduce legislation for the upcoming General Assembly session that deals directly with gift giving in the wake of the jury's verdict. Political analysts say it will be interesting to see which direction the debate takes.

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