The question of ethics

Published 1:39 pm Saturday, September 27, 2014

To say that Terry McAuliffe has a somewhat…um…questionable history when it comes to matters pertaining to ethical purity would be somewhat of an understatement.

Nearly two decades later, it is still unclear how involved the former finance chairman of the Democratic National Party was in raising money for then-president Bill Clinton by arranging for political donors to enjoy paid sleepovers in the Lincoln bedroom at The White House.

McAuliffe’s foray into manufacturing electric cars has generated more questions about his seemingly casual relationship with the truth than the number of jobs he promised to create through his GreenTech car company or even the number of cars he planned to assemble.

And for those of you keeping score at home, here is a jewel of a quote from McAuliffe himself back in August 2011, when he was still trying to convince folks that his Franklin Pellets project actually existed and that he was an honest-to-goodness businessman; “I’m down in Franklin, Virginia, creating and saving these jobs, but I’m shipping all the wood pellets over to Europe….”

Of course, it turns out that he was not, in fact, down here in Franklin, Virginia, he was neither saving nor creating jobs, and he certainly wasn’t shipping wood pellets to Europe.

So when McAuliffe began his second campaign for the commonwealth’s top executive position in 2013, two things occurred to me: 1. He can’t possibly be elected Governor of Virginia, and 2. The seemingly disingenuous promise to tackle ethics reform, if elected, was completely farcical.

Shows you how much I know.

Apparently, Governor McAuliffe could win, and on Thursday he finished proving me wrong on both counts when he signed Executive Order 28, establishing the Commission to Ensure Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government.

The commission, which will be co-chaired by former congressman Rick Boucher, a Democrat, and former lieutenant governor Bill Bolling, a Republican, is tasked with recommending specific rules or legislative changes pertaining to a number of complex ethical issues. Campaign finance laws, post-elected office employment and redistricting procedures, to name a few, are items on the list to be reviewed by the commission. Solving the ethical dilemmas that these types of topics present will require some grownup discussion on some very complicated and grownup issues.

But the primary issue, the one at the top of both the commission’s list of priorities as well as most Virginian’s minds in the wake of the incredibly sloppy Bob McDonnell scandal, should also be the easiest on which to find consensus: gifts and loans made to elected officials.

If Gov. McAuliffe, the commission members and the General Assembly are serious about eliminating the risk of Virginian’s having to endure another scandal the likes of what the McDonnell’s recently put them through, they could do so by simply outlawing all gifts and private loans received by an elected official.

All of them. In any amount. For any reason.

Nothing at all, not a $15,000 loan to help a friend pay for his daughter’s wedding reception, not a Rolex watch to give as an anniversary present, not a fancy designer dress purchased on a weekend shopping spree, not a weekend at a friend’s lake house, not so much as a ham sandwich at lunch, should be accepted by an elected state official. Period. End of story.

If the aim of McAuliffe is to do as the name of his commission implies, which is to ensure integrity and public confidence in state government, then he should leave no room for doubt. He should immediately propose the absolute banning of all gifts and loans to elected officials. If he does, it would go a long way toward convincing many Virginians, including this one, that their governor is not the fast-talking snake oil salesman they believe him to be.

TONY CLARK is the publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at