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By Sean Gorman July 30, 2012

Little effort, no gain

In his 2009 gubernatorial campaign, Bob McDonnell promised to lift the veil on lobbyist influence.

"Bob McDonnell will have legislation introduced that requires disclosure of the specific bills and procurement matters that lobbyists are working on, as well as information about entertainment expenses related to those matters,” McDonnell's campaign said in a September 2009 news release.

Taylor Thornley, a spokeswoman for the governor, told us the governor met his commitment shortly after taking office in January 2010. She pointed to a McDonnell news release detailing his 2010 legislative agenda, which included his support of a House bill that would have changed the state's annual lobbyist disclosure form.

The measure would have required lobbyists to list the bill number of each piece of legislation they were seeking to influence. The current form calls for lobbyists to list executive and legislative actions they have working on "with as much specificity as possible” but doesn't ask for listing bill numbers.

The House legislation also proposed some minor changes to the way lobbyists report costs for entertaining executive and legislative officials.

The bill was not McDonnell's idea. The sponsor, former Del. Sam Nixon, R-Chesterfield, introduced  virtually identical legislation in 2009, before McDonnell became governor. That measure passed the House and died in the Senate Rules Committee. Nixon's effort in 2010 suffered the same fate.

And Nixon's bills did not address a key item in McDonnell's promise: a requirement that lobbyists disclose procurement matters they are working on.

Another disclosure bill in the Senate in 2010 did call on lobbyists to list procurement transactions that they sought to influence. The Senate bill died eight days before McDonnell detailed his full  legislative agenda and it was not on the list.

We could find no evidence that McDonnell backed the Senate measure. The bill's sponsor -- Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Roanoke County -- couldn't say for sure whether the governor supported his bill.

"Seems like we had support of the administration on this thing, but I'm going from memory,” Smith, R-Roanoke County, told us.

But Smith does recall that his bill was unpopular. "We had beat a hornet's nest,” he said. "There were lobbyists swarming and testifying about what a disastrous bill this was.”

Thornley, McDonnell's spokeswoman, said the governor backed the Senate bill, although she did not provide us with documentation.

"The governor still supports that idea, supported the bill and would have signed (the Senate bill) into law had it passed and would support it should it be submitted in the 2013 term,” Thornley said in an e-mail.

So McDonnell endorsed a House bill that modestly addressed his promise to expand disclosure. He was publicly silent on a stronger Senate bill that addressed his pledge to require lobbyists to disclose their involvement in procurement issues. Both bills died in 2010 and we see no evidence that McDonnell has since called for expanded disclosure.

The governor has the done bare minimum to address lobbyist disclosure. We rate his action on this campaign promise as a Compromise.

Our Sources

McDonnell for Governor, "Government Reform,” September 28, 2009.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, "Governor Bob McDonnell's legislative initiatives move forward,” February 20, 2010.

E-mails from Taylor Thornley, spokeswoman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, July 3 and July 19, 2012.

Interview with State Sen. Ralph Smith, July 17, 2012.

Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth "Lobbyist's disclosure statement,” accessed July 18, 2012.

Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth, "Lobbyist's disclosure statement instructions,” July 18, 2012.

Legislative Information System, HB 524, January 13, 2010.

Legislative Information System, SB 507, January 10, 2010.

Legislative Information System, HB 1883, January 12, 2009.

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