No more Rolexes. No more all-expenses-paid holidays. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe put an end to some of these lavish shows of political affection on Saturday, his first day in office, signing an executive order that bars the governor and executive branch employees from accepting gifts worth more than $100.
The move came in the wake of poor grades from the State Integrity Investigation and a protracted scandal that plagued McAuliffe’s predecessor, Republican former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. McDonnell is under investigation by federal authorities in connection with a series of gifts he and his family received from a Virginia business executive.
The executive order completed a promise Democrat McAuliffe made during his gubernatorial campaign, which played out in the shadow of the McDonnell scandal. The order applies to executive branch employees and their families only, and excludes the state attorney general, lieutenant governor and staff of a few commissions. It also creates an ethics commission that will investigate complaints under the order and issue recommendations for whether an employee should be disciplined, a decision that will be left to department chiefs.
Longtime political analyst Bob Holsworth said the move marks a clear break from the previous administration. “McAuliffe has made a pretty clear statement about where he stands,” Holsworth said, “but what it doesn’t do is it doesn’t tell us what we’re going to go through in the legislature.”
Virginia has some of the weakest ethics laws in the nation. Politicians can accepts gifts of unlimited value, are not subject to oversight by an ethics committee and are free to raise vast sums of money under a porous regime of campaign finance laws. The combination earned Virginia a grade of F from the State Integrity Investigation, a state-by-state ranking of ethics and accountability laws released in March 2012 by the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity.