Corruption Risk Report Card
Rank among 50 states: 47th

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The story behind the score

With no state ethics commission, no campaign finance limits, and lax oversight rules, Virginia ranks near the bottom on the State Integrity Index. Read more from SII State Reporter Laura LaFay.

Latest state news for Virginia

Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia has rolled out another in a series of attempts to repair the state’s broken reputation, creating a commission to focus on ethics and accountability in government.

The move comes in the wake of the conviction of former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, McAuliffe’s predecessor, on corruption charges stemming from gifts he accepted while in office. In a press conference announcing the panel on Thursday, McAuliffe, a Democrat, implicitly acknowledged the case and also cited the state’s failing grade in the Center for Public Integrity’s State Integrity Investigation, calling the grade “one of the many warnings the state has received on its mediocre record on accountability and transparency.” McAuliffe’s action also represents a tacit acknowledgment that reform efforts undertaken by the legislature earlier this year were inadequate. 

Virginia lawmakers have moved to strengthen the state’s modest ethics laws, approving reform legislation that seeks to reign in excessive gifts to public officials. Even before the bill passed, however, critics had already begun deriding the effort as little more than a gesture, and it remains unclear whether new Gov. Terry McAuliffe will sign the measure in its existing form.

Virginia has among the least restrictive ethics laws in the nation, and the issue has become front-page news in the Old Dominion. The state received a grade of F from the State Integrity Investigation, a 2012 survey of ethics and transparency laws carried out by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. And the legislature had come under intense public pressure to strengthen those laws after news broke last year that former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his family had received at least $165,000 in gifts — most of which were not disclosed — from a political supporter.

No more Rolexes. No more all-expenses-paid holidays. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe put an end to some of these lavish shows of political affection on Saturday, his first day in office, signing an executive order that bars the governor and executive branch employees from accepting gifts worth more than $100.

The move came in the wake of poor grades from the State Integrity Investigation and a protracted scandal that plagued McAuliffe’s predecessor, Republican former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. McDonnell is under investigation by federal authorities in connection with a series of gifts he and his family received from a Virginia business executive.

Editor's note, May 23 —A local Virginia prosecutor is examining whether Gov. Robert McDonnell violated state disclosure laws by failing to report a 2011 gift from a campaign donor. The investigation, first reported Wednesday by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, began in November at the request of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli

A series of revelations and stinging media reports about Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell’s relationship with a corporate executive is bringing new attention to the state’s forgiving accountability laws—a subject highlighted last year by the State Integrity Investigation.

The root of the uproar is a $15,000 catering tab for the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter back in 2011, quietly paid by Jonnie Williams Sr., the CEO of Star Scientific, a Glen Allen, Va.-based dietary supplement company. Now the news, first reported in late March by the Washington Post, is dominating conversation in the state’s political circles   and raising questions about Virginia’s liberal allowances for gifts to politicians: there is no limit.

State Integrity news for Maryland and Virginia from SII partner WAMU:

If "sunlight is the best of disinfectants," as former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote, local lawmakers may need a refresher on the importance of government transparency. The State Integrity Investigation gave failing grades to both Maryland and Virginia when it came to the public's access to information.

Maryland ranked 46th out of 50 states and Virginia ranked 49th. While the District was not included in the survey, the mayor's administration faced sharp criticism this summer when it proposed weakening D.C.'s public records laws and broadening the range of documents that may be exempt from disclosure.

Read and hear more from SII partner WAMU - Washington, D.C.

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