Beginning on January 1, 2016, Virginia state legislators and executive officials, certain state or local officers or employees, certain candidates, and their immediate families, may not solicit or accept a single gift or combination of gifts exceeding $100 during any calendar year from any lobbyist or lobbyist's principal, unless a relevant exception applies.
The Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council (Council), was established on July 1, 2015, to provide guidance and approve gift waivers. The Council reviews all disclosure forms, provides ethics training and advice, and approves travel.
Under Virginia law, a "gift" is any item having monetary value such as a gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan or forbearance. "Gift" does not include: gifts that are returned or given to charity, gifts valued at $20 or less, food and drink consumed while attending an event related to official duties, awards of appreciation such as plaques or trophies, campaign contributions and gifts from relatives.
Gifts from personal friends are generally permitted, however, gifts exceeding $100 must be approved by the Council. The term "personal friend" is not defined, but considerations include: the circumstances of the gift, the nature and length of the friendship and any previous exchange of gifts between them, whether the donor personally paid for the gift or sought a tax deduction or reimbursement for the gift, and whether the donor has given similar gifts to other government officials.
Likewise, admission, entertainment, food and beverages accepted or received while in attendance at a "widely attended event" are permissible. A widely attended event is an event at which at least 25 persons have been invited or there is a reasonable expectation that at least 25 people will attend the event, the event is open to individuals who share a common interest, are members of a public, civic, charitable or professional organization, who are from a particular industry or profession, or who represent persons interested in a in a particular issue.
As of January 1, 2016, the Council must approve all travel paid for by third-parties for state officers, members of the General Assembly, judges, state board members and state candidates. The travel must relate to the official duties of the traveler. Council approval is not needed for: campaign travel, travel paid for by the United States or another state or political subdivision of another state, travel provided to facilitate attendance by a legislator at a General Assembly session, a committee or commission meeting or a national conference approved by the House or Senate Rules Committees, travel related to an official state or local meeting, or travel for any board, commission, authority or charitable organization meetings.
The Governor, his campaign committee and any political action committee established on behalf of the Governor, may not knowingly solicit or accept a contribution, gift, or other item with a value greater than $100 from persons and entities seeking loans or grants from the Commonwealth's Opportunity Fund, and persons and entities seeking loans or grants from the Fund may not provide such contributions or gifts.
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