It’s a list of exotic trips and perks for the members of the Virginia General Assembly, rewards and retreats for lawmakers who make only a maximum $18,000 per year.
Members Thursday reported more than $260,000 in free concerts, trips and outings, according to public disclosure forms compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project.
The lawmaker who tops the list of gift totals, Sen. Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax), who reported $11,499 for 2013. A $7,600 trip to Seoul, South Korea is listed within Marsden’s disclosure form, paid for by the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Sen. Dave Marsden (left) meets with chairman of the Korean Federation of Industries during a trip in August sponsored by the Korean government.
Marsden’s 37th Senate District has a sizable Korean population, and the Senator has led efforts to include the name “East Sea,” along with the Sea of Japan in Virginia textbooks. Korea views the Sea of Japan as a name reflective of what’s perceived to be a legacy of Japanese imperialism. The South Korean ambassador headed to Richmond to discuss the issue Thursday with Gov. Terry McAuliffe as well as legislators.
“It was a very successful trip in terms of promoting the East Sea Bill,” Marsden said in a phone interview Thursday. “We promoted Virginia business and at the same time, showed that we deeply care about Koreans who live here in America.”
Speaker Bill Howell (R-Stafford) reported a Napa wine tasting outing provided by Henrico-based Altria. The company paid a total of $238 for the Speaker and his wife for trip to California’s wine country. Altria also paid the bill for meals and transportation during Howell’s trip to the National Speakers Conference.
Howell also received a $536 iPad with cover and duffle bag, paid for by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation. A spokesperson for the Speaker declined to comment on any of the gifts.
A tip to Paris was made possible by tobacco company settlement funds, with Sen. Frank Ruff (R-Clarksville) reporting a $4,235 journey to the Paris Air Show.
In an email Thursday, Sen. Ruff said the trip to France involved economic development in Virginia, and there would be an announcement Friday related to the visit.
“I have focused my time in the Senate trying to do everything possible to increase economic opportunities in Southern Virginia,” Ruff wrote. “Those efforts not only include talking to prospects but also working to improve the workforce quality to make our region more attractive to manufacturing.”
Rep. Terry Kilgore also attended the Paris Air Show, recording $1,900 in hotel and airfare expenses.
In terms of taxpayer funded trips, 35 members reported more than $1000 in travel expenses to conferences nation-wide. Sen. Walter Stosch (R-Glen Allen) reported the lowest dollar amount for taxpayer funded trips, disclosing $292 for a trip to the National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington, D.C.
Currently, General Assembly members are allowed to accept gifts regardless of amount, a rule that may change following Gov. Bob McDonnell’s gift scandal. However, each January, lawmakers must disclose all gifts valued at more than $50.
At the bottom of the list for gift totals, Del. Manoli Loupassi (R-Richmond) and Former Sen. Harry Blevins (R-Chesapeake) only reported one gift each. Both members accepted a Wawa gift basket, valued at $51.
View the entire list of gifts courtesy of VPAP here.