In 2015, Virginia created three ethics agencies: the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council, the Senate Ethics Advisory Panel and the House Ethics Advisory Panel. Unlike the majority of state ethics agencies, these bodies do not have the power to sanction violations of ethics rules. The Advisory Council cannot even investigate complaints. The goal is to enact legislation in the 2020 Legislative Session that would create effective ethics agencies that would have the power to investigate and sanction wrongdoing by officials and employees of the executive and legislative branches. This poor ethics regime is reflected in Virginia’s showing in two recent reports by the Coalition for Integrity. The state scored in the bottom ten of the 2018 S.W.A.M.P. Index, an analysis of laws and regulations related to ethics and transparency issues. In particular, Virginia fared poorly due to its lack of sanctioning powers, lack of removal protections for ethics agency members, and weak financial disclosure laws. In a follow-up report on how ethics agencies enforced ethics rules, Virginia’s lack of enforcement power among all three agencies precluded it from even being scored.
To address ethics issues in Virginia, we launched the Virginia Integrity Challenge. 25 candidates for the General Assembly took the challenge and 11 of those candidates won their elections. We are hoping to work with a champion to enact legislation which would give enforcement power to Virginia’s ethics agencies.