PolitiFact: McAuliffe keeps gift-ban pledge — for now - Waynesboro News Virginian: Virginia Politics

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PolitiFact: McAuliffe keeps gift-ban pledge — for now

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Posted: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 6:30 am

Terry McAuliffe promised that on his first day as governor, he'd sign an executive order restricting gifts to himself and his family.

His campaign pledge, first made in April and repeated often, came amid news reports that then-Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family had accepted more than $160,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams Sr., the then-CEO of Star Scientific.

McAuliffe vowed that "upon taking office," he would ban lobbyists and others with business before the state "from making any gifts to the governor, the governor's spouse, and any children still residing in the household (excluding informational materials or other items under $50 in value that would assist these officials or their staff in the performance of their duties)."

McAuliffe also promised to ban gifts totaling $100 from anyone else — except his relatives — to the governor's household.

The standards would be stricter than the lax state law that guided McDonnell and other governors that set no limits on accepting largesse but required them to disclose any gift worth more than $50. Because the law does not apply to the governor's family, many of Williams' gifts to the McDonnells were not reported.

Now, let's move forward to inaugural day, Jan 11. About two hours after taking the oath of office, McAuliffe signed an executive order imposing the gift ban not only on himself and his immediate family, but also on most state employees as well.

The order says, "No officer or employee of the state executive branch or an immediate family member of such officer or employee shall solicit anything of value, or accept, directly or indirectly, any gift from any lobbyist or from any principal or employee or agent of a principal."

There's a notable exception to the dictate: Governors, bureaucrats and their families can still accept free tickets to college and school events, such as sports games.

The order also imposes McAuliffe's promised $100 cap on total gifts in a year that can be accepted from people not doing business with the state government. The limit does not apply to gifts that are exchanged between family members or given by personal or personal-business friends.

The order largely will be enforced by agency directors, who are required to investigate any complaints of improper gift taking by their workers and, when they see fit, "impose the appropriate discipline."

McAuliffe will appoint a three-member Executive Branch Ethics Commission that, among other things, will investigate any gift-taking complaints against the governor or his Cabinet secretaries.

"The results along with a recommendation for appropriate discipline shall be forwarded to the governor or his designee," the order says. The decree does not say whether the reports would be publicly released.

It should be noted that the order is in force for one year, instead of McAuliffe's entire term. So we'll check back next January to see if the governor has renewed it. For now, we give McAuliffe a "Promise Kept."

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