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Democrats say Ken Cuccinelli took advantage of Virginia's lax ethics laws

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Photo - Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno,Democratic Party

The cozy relationship between Virginia's two top Republicans, Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and a Glen Allen-based supplement-maker has Democratic lawmakers calling for new, tougher ethics laws.

Democratic leaders on Monday said it was time for Virginia to rewrite lax disclosure policies that allow elected officials to receive vacations, flights and food from the politically connected as long as it's reported in an annual statement of economic interests. In the case of Cuccinelli, thousands of dollars in gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams went unreported dating back to 2009. The Republican gubernatorial candidate on Friday finally amended his disclosure reports to show the gifts.

"I don't think there's any doubt we're going to see some proposals generated in the next legislative session," said House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, who renewed the Democrats' call for Cuccinelli to resign.

Star Scientific is the subject of a federal investigation and the company is suing the state over $700,000 in unpaid taxes. Cuccinelli once owned more than $10,000 in Star Scientific stock and he increased his holdings even after the company sued the state. He sold all his stock earlier this year.

Williams also paid for trips taken by McDonnell and picked up the catering bill for the wedding of the governor's daughter. McDonnell didn't report the $15,000 catering payment because state disclosure laws don't cover family members.

Cuccinelli called for the state to eliminate the family member exemption earlier this month and in the past few days said the state should require any gift greater than $500 to be reported within 10 days. His rival, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe, has proposed a sweeping gift ban that would outlaw any elected official from receiving gifts greater than $100 and keep anyone doing business in the state from giving gifts to family members.

Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico, said McAuliffe's proposal presented "the broad parameters" for a deal but noted some problems.

"My daughter got a scholarship to go to college," McEachin said. "I don't think anyone should ban that gift."

House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Fredericksburg, said he expects lawmakers to "revisit" disclosure rules next year but scoffed at McAuliffe's proposed gift ban.

"If McAuliffe wants to ban all gifts, does that mean my grandkids can't give me a gift? Does that mean my friend of 35 years can't?" Howell said. "Probably what would be better is a nominal threshold and reporting within a few days."

The feud over Cuccinelli's ties to Star Scientific is just one of the fights already raging on the campaign trail. While Democrats demand Cuccinelli's resignation, Republicans are insisting that McAuliffe release his full tax returns.

Cuccinelli unveiled eight years of tax filings earlier this month, while McAuliffe made public only summaries of three years of returns, a total of six pages.

"Unlike Ken Cuccinelli, who has demonstrated a commitment to transparency and accountability, Terry McAuliffe continues to hide his tax returns behind a shroud of secrecy," said Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah.

Democrats defended McAuliffe's decision.

"Terry's made the decision he's chosen to make," McEachin said. "If he chooses to do more, that's fine. If he doesn't choose to do more, we're more than proud to be his ticketmates."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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