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I recently saw that a republican legislator from Virginia Beach had to file bankruptcy, as a result of his financial condition. Obviously, financial difficulties can happen to anyone. However, when it occurs to a legislator, it raises the possibility that money might influence legislators.

It should not be accepted that influence peddling has become a way of life in our Virginia capital. For this reason, politicians must be held accountable to citizens and not to powerful special interest. The influence of lobbyists must be controlled.

There are some potential ideas that have been floated, that may assist in making sure that money does not buy legislation in Virginia. First, impose some form of restriction on giving and spending, by candidates, in elections. Second, prohibit lobbyists from fund raising for politicians. Third, privately funded travel by public officials should be prohibited. Special interests and lobbyists should not be allowed to pay for lawmakers and their staff members to take lavish trips under the guise of an educational conference. Fourth, there must be some kind of restriction between government and the private sector. If government officials are allowed to slide back and forth between public service and the private sector, then there should be some kind of time period where a government official is prohibited from becoming a lobbyist, once they have left such employ.

There already has been a discussion of an Independent Ethics Watchdog Committee that would not be comprised of politicians or lobbyists. Perhaps, accountability in this area will expose the strong connection between lobbyist money and political leaders.

In Tennessee, the Tennessee legislature has taken action called the “Tennessee Waltz“, where the governor called for a special legislative session devoted only to ethics. The Tennessee legislature was successful in passing a bill that put limitations on cash contributions from lobbyists, lavish gift giving, and spotty reporting from lawmakers and lobbyists. This would be a great model for Virginia.

The bankruptcy of a legislator can serve as a reminder that we need to make sure that our legislators are above reproach. There must be accountability so that access by a few, does not become undo influence over our laws.

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