Reassessing Virginia’s Conflict of Interest Laws
24 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2015
Date Written: April 8, 2015
The ethical blunders of former Governor Robert McDonnell illuminated the need to add some teeth to Virginia’s gift laws. However, the incident failed to address the lax oversight of Virginia’s conflict of interest laws that are fraught with exemptions and flimsy requirements. Despite the implementation of ethics laws that seem to resemble those at the federal level, Virginia has lax oversight rules, weak consumer representation protections, and loopholes that enable government officials to circumvent the enforcement of these provisions. This results in the collusion of political and economic elites and the exploitation of the Commonwealth’s citizenry. States across the country have similar problems, but the majority of state ethics programs are much more effective than the ethics regime in Virginia. Furthermore, a disconnect exists between the enforcement of conflict of interest violations at the federal level and among the states. Unlike Virginia’s ethics laws, the federal ethics laws have teeth that capture and punish the ethical misconduct of government employees. In order to improve Virginia’s ethics laws, the Commonwealth must prosecute cases, institute an independent ethics commission, conduct ethics training, embrace transparency and openness in government, and increase the penalties to a level that will deter potential violators. Virginia will have to do more than change a few gift laws to catch up to other states. If an ethics revolution is going to take place, Virginia's state legislators would be wise to heed the enforcement cultures of other states (particularly New Jersey and California) and the federal laws under the Ethics in Government Act. Virginia has real potential to create a robust ethics program. Perhaps, upon review of its ethical shortcomings, the Commonwealth will take the necessary actions to revamp its ethics laws and pave the way for a more accountable state government for future constituents.
Keywords: Conflict of Interest, Virginia, Ethics, Ethics Laws, Ethics in Government Act, Commonwealth, California, New Jersey, McDonnell, McAuliffe
JEL Classification: K00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation