Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why the governor's apology doesn't clear the air

Tuesday Gov. Bob McDonnell apologized to the citizens of Virginia and announced that  he'd paid back loans that Jonnie Williams of Star Scientific had made to businesses owned by McDonnell and members his family to the tune of $120,000.

While the governor hopes that ends "Giftgate," it doesn't.

There's still the $15,000 Williams paid to cover the costs of catering at the governor's daughter's wedding, the designer clothes he bought Mrs. McDonnell and the $7,000 Rolex he bought for the governor at the first lady's request.

Looking at all of this in the best light for the governor -- there was no quid pro quo, he didn't technically have to report gifts to relatives, Williams was a personal friend -- it still doesn't pass the small test.

And it's not something voters can relate to. Which of us has "friends" who shower us with gifts of more than $100,000? What kind of man lets another man buy thousands of dollars worth of designer clothes for his wife?

The situation is weird and has an innate wrongness about it that anyone can recognize.

While the governor may not be found to have done anything criminal by the three on-going investigations, that doesn't mean his actions were ethical. And no one looking at the situation objectively can believe that they were.

Except perhaps the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates who reacted to the governor's apology like that made everything alright. And they promise a reform bill that will put caps and limits on gifts and require reporting gifts to family members.

Caps? Limits? Reports?

How about this -- no statewide government official, member of the legislature or their families is allowed to take any gift from anyone with interests before state government?

What positive purpose is served by allowing them to take even modest gifts?

Look, if they get the key to the city or plaque for being legislator of the year, they should get to keep those.

But designer clothes, hunting trips, foreign trips, expensive watches? No. There''s no reason to allow those, they give the perception of impropriety, even if there is no explicit quid pro quo. 

And this is not a partisan issue. Folks on both sides have been guilty of having their hands out in the past. And folks from both sides, those of us outside the "gift culture" of state government, should be able to agree that these gifts should not be part of the perks of public office.

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