On Friday, on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, Democratic candidate for attorney general Mark Herring called out his opponent, State Sen. Mark Obenshain, for voting against a bill to ban gifts, and for remaining silent as the gifts scandal engulfs two of Virginia’s highest elected officials.
“I do want to take this opportunity to point out some very serious differences between Senator Obenshain and myself on these ethics issues,” Herring said. “When the story first broke, I was the one that called for an independent investigation back in April. Senator Obenshain was silent. I’ve called on the Governor and the Attorney General to return and reimburse Star Scientific for those gifts. And I think even on this show a couple of weeks ago, Senator Obenshain was ambivalent and kind of waffled on that; later he said, ‘well, that’s a political calculus.’ It’s not a political calculus. It’s about doing what’s right.
“And when he had the opportunity to vote for a gift ban in the legislature, a gift ban on legislators, he voted against it. He voted to kill it.”
In 2006, Obenshain voted in committee against prohibiting gifts from lobbyists and other persons to General Assembly members during regular legislative sessions. Headlines from this shameful vote are under “Background” at the bottom of this release. In August 2013, when asked whether Cuccinelli should return the $18,000 in gifts from Star Scientific’s CEO, Jonnie Williams, Obenshain said that he would leave it to others to “weigh the political calculus.”
As Virginia’s next Attorney General, Mark Herring will work proactively to prevent corruption, hold elected officials accountable and restore the public trust. Included in his “Restoring Integrity to State Government” plan. Mark Herring outlined his plan to clean up the ethical mess in Richmond:
- Creating a State Ethics Commission to administer and enforce all of Virginia’s ethics rules and conflict of interest laws. The Commission would be made up of several appointed public officials. It would have professional staff and would be empowered to undertake investigations and hold hearings regarding alleged violations of ethics and conflicts of interest laws. One of the Commission’s first orders of business would be a full review of Virginia’s ethics and conflict of interest rules.
- Limiting Gifts and Strengthening Disclosure Requirements, such as imposing a $100 limit and full disclosure requirements on gifts to elected officials and their immediate family members from any business, organization, or person, other than a relative. Mark would also work to prevent public officials or their immediate family members from receiving gifts from lobbyists, their employers and those with business before the Commonwealth. This proposal also includes the requirement to fully disclose corporate loans, fully identify creditors and post disclosures to a single online location within ten days.
- Root out, Punish, and Deter Corruption and Conflicts of Interest by requiring independent audits of financial disclosures by the State Ethics Commission and increased penalties for officeholders who violate conflict of interest and campaign finance disclosure laws.
- Prohibit the Use of Campaign Contributions for Personal Expenses. Mark will work with legislators to pass a law that stops elected officials and candidates from using campaign funds for personal expenses.
- Expand Public Access to Government Records by clarifying that the Attorney General’s office must honor FOIA requests and expanding the scope of FOIA to cover the State Corporation.