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Editorial: ‘Practices That Undermine Trust’

Virginia gets a failing grade on ethics rules.

The State Integrity Investigation is "designed to expose practices that undermine trust in state capitols — and spotlight the states that are doing things right."

Virginia got a failing grade, ranking 47 out 50 states for vulnerability to corruption. Corruption in the Commonwealth is probably not any more rampant than voter fraud. But in terms of practices that could undermine trust, Virginia has vast room for improvement.

Here are a few comments about Virginia from the investigation (can't call them highlights):

"The Old Dominion is one of nine states with no statewide ethics commission, one of four states with no campaign finance limits and one of only two states (South Carolina is the other) where the part-time legislators handpick the judges before whom many of them practice law.

"With 8.1 million residents, Virginia is the 12th most populous state in the union. But its part-time lawmakers have one of the shortest meeting schedules in the country — 30 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years. At that speed, lobbyists of necessity have been elevated from influence peddlers to trusted advisers and authors of laws."

Virginia has admirable disclosure of campaign contributions, earning a near perfect grade on citizen access to campaign finance records. The credit on the transparency of actual contributions to candidates belongs to the Virginia Public Access Project, vpap.org, more than the Commonwealth.

But the benefit of access to information on campaign finance is overshadowed by "lax oversight rules, weak consumer representation protections, dwindling capitol press corps and coziness between political and economic elites. ... Meanwhile, the few ethics and disclosure requirements that do exist tend to be flawed, limited or fraught with exemptions and qualifications," according to the report.

A couple of examples of laws and practices that could undermine trust:

Virginia has no limits on financial contributions to political candidates. Literally. Companies and individuals can give unlimited amounts to any and all state and local elected officials, with some very limited restriction on timing.

The licensing of car title loan companies, and allowing those companies in Virginia to lend to out-of-state car owners is clearly not in the interests of consumers or the communities where these storefronts are located.

Despite a groundswell of indignation about a state law that sets the start date for public schools rather than allowing local school districts to set their own calendar, the entertainment industry prevailed this year again.

Votes in subcommittees, where many important reforms go to die, are not recorded and not available to the public.

See Virginia's report card (overall grade: F) http://www.stateintegrity.org/virginia.