Virginia was one of the few states with no limits on gifts to public officials. However, in the wake of well-publicized gift scandals from the prior administration, just moments after being sworn in as Virginia’s 72nd governor on January 11, Governor McAuliffe signed an executive order imposing new gift restrictions on Executive Branch employees and officers and their immediate family members.
The highlights of Executive Order Number 2 include:
- Executive branch employees and officers cannot accept any gift from lobbyists or the entities that employ or retain lobbyists.
- Executive branch employees and officers cannot accept gifts valued at more than $100 from any single source (that is not a lobbyist). This limit applies either to single gifts or in the aggregate over course of a year.
- The term “gift” means anything of value, including provision of services, meals and lodging, stocks or bonds, favors or special privileges, and a promise or offer of employment.
- However, like most state and the federal gift rules, the definition of gift includes several important exceptions, such as
- gifts with a value of $25 or less
- anything of value given on the basis of personal friendship
- payment or reimbursement of reasonable travel and related expenses incurred in order to engage in an activity that serves a legitimate public purpose
- campaign contributions; and
- discounts or rebates made in the ordinary course of business to a member of the public.
- Creation of an Executive Branch Ethics Commission, comprised of three members appointed by the Governor. The Commission has authority to write opinions, enforce the Order, and recommend revisions to the Order.
The Executive Order only applies to individuals that work in Virginia’s Executive Branch. Legislators and legislative employees generally are permitted to accept gifts except in certain circumstances, such as where the donor is seeking a government contract. However, the legislature is expected to adopt its own ethics package in the near future.