RICHMOND, Va. — Prior to the corruption scandal involving former Gov. Bob McDonnell, lobbyists spent nearly $20,000 at Morton’s Steakhouse during the 2013 legislative session. Two years later, that number fell to $3,200. A similar phenomenon occurred at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, where lobbyists reported spending nearly $16,000 during the 2013 legislative session. This year, they spent $2,500.
An analysis of newly filed disclosure forms shows registered lobbyists reported spending $456,000 on entertaining lawmakers and other officials between November 2014 and April of this year.
Two years ago, that figure was $541,000 during the corresponding six-month period, about 16 percent more. The figures back up what lawmakers and lobbyists said during this year’s legislative session based on anecdotal information: that fancy meals and gifts from lobbyists are less frequent in the post-McDonnell era.
Lawmakers have struggled for two straight legislative sessions to tighten Virginia’s once relaxed rules on gift giving.
In 2014, they passed a $250 a year gift cap from lobbyists, but did not include a limit on intangible items such as meals at expensive restaurants. Earlier this year, spurred by McDonnell’s conviction on corruption charges in September, the General Assembly passed a new $100 a year gift cap that will also apply to meals and entertainment. But the law won’t go into effect until next year.
Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe enacted a $100 gift ban for himself and his staff in his first days in office.
A jury found McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of doing favors for former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans.
The gifts included a Rolex watch and designer clothes purchased during a Manhattan shopping spree. Both McDonnells have been sentenced to prison time but are currently out on appeal.
Lobbyists and their clients can still give unlimited amounts to lawmakers’ re-election campaigns or political action committees, which have virtually no restrictions on spending. Campaign and PAC spending reports are set to be filed Wednesday.