RICHMOND – Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe said Wednesday that he would push for greater transparency and ethics reforms in state government.
McAuliffe spoke to a roomful of journalists after a panel discussion on political journalism ethics and political finance and gift-disclosure organized by the Associated Press.
The Northern Virginia businessman said he “would be inclined” to “issue an executive order” to waive the fees currently charged to citizens and journalists requesting government documents under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Under the federal FOIA, federal officials can waive the often prohibitive costs of a public records request if it pertains directly to the public good, but the state does not.
“It’s the first I’ve been asked this question,” McAuliffe said. “I think it’s a great idea. I will take it back and talk to my transition team about it.”
He said he was not aware that Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act lacks a provision to allow fees to be waived if the FOIA request is in the public interest.
Echoing President Obama’s campaign slogans, McAuliffe said he would set a new standard of “transparent, accountable, state government that is beholden only to the taxpayers who fund it.” He added, “Virginians should never have to question who their leaders are putting first.”
The best way to ensure political transparency, McAuliffe said, is to issue an executive order limiting gifts to politicians to no more than $100, increasing penalties for violating current disclosure laws and eliminating conflicts of interest; however, McAuliffe did not offer details about how the order would achieve those ends.
McAuliffe, a Democrat, said his almost-daily talks with outgoing Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell often extend into weekends, facilitating what he called “the smoothest transition ever” as he prepares to take office.
In spite of their talks, however, McAuliffe said he knew only as much as the newspapers have reported about the federal investigation of McDonnell’s relationship with a dietary-supplement manufacturer.
McAuliffe spoke to about 50 journalists at AP Day at the Capitol. The event, held at the Richmond Times-Dispatch offices, was organized by Virginia AP Managing Editors, the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association and the Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Also speaking at the event was Republican Delegate Bob Marshall of Manassas. He said not all secrecy is bad, citing the 1776 Constitutional Convention that took place behind closed doors without public oversight.
Marshall said people behave differently when they know they’re being watched, and limiting gifts to $100 would “force political activity underground.”
Marshall said a “no gifts” policy would lead to prosecutions for unreported golf tips, information and special discounts; for example, getting a car at half price because of a person’s status as a politician. Marshall said whether a politician received discounts is “not in the public interest.”