Quid pro quo: The McDonnell Scandal

On October 16, 2013 a federal appeals court refused to allow Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to shield e-mails from a grand jury subpoena. This decision was just one more step in the scandal which broke earlier this year.

Money in politics can take two forms: campaign funds and bribes after election. In many cases both occur — the McDonnell scandal is a good example. Governor McDonnell has always portrayed himself with a squeaky clean image, so it came as quite a surprise when allegations of corruption were reported.

In addition to the federal investigation, the state of Virginia launched its own investigation of Governor McDonnell. Attorney General of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli asked Attorney Michael Herring of the Richmond Commonwealth to investigate the McDonnells’ relationship with the nutrition company Star Scientific and its chief executive, Jonnie Williams (Cuccinelli did not investigate the case himself, because he had also accepted money from Williams, although he was cleared of wrongdoing). Allegedly, McDonnell and other members of his family had accepted gifts from Williams in exchange for favorable consideration from state programs.

The gifts given by Jonnie Williams included $145,000 in checks. Two of those checks (totaling $70,000) were paid to a corporate entity owned by the governor and his sister. Another check for $50,000 was paid to the governor’s wife. One of the governor’s daughters received a check for $10,000 and another daughter had the $15,000 dinner served at her wedding paid for by Mr. Williams.

Other gifts received by Governor McDonnell and his family included a $6500 Rolex watch for the governor and a $15,000 shopping spree in New York for his wife where she purchased designer clothes, shoes, and handbag. Other gifts included vacations and other trips for the governor and his family members, a set of golf clubs for each of the governor’s two sons, and golf outings for the governor and his sons. The company had also given $23,500 “in-kind” donations of air travel to McDonnell’s election campaign in 2009 and $80,000 “in-kind” donations of air travel to McDonnell’s Opportunity Virginia PAC in 2010 and 2011.

Reportedly, Governor McDonnell’s wife appeared before a group of doctors and investors to promote Star Scientific’s primary product, Anatabloc. When the product was officially launched a few months later, the launch party was held at the governor’s mansion. The governor’s wife allegedly traveled across the state and to other parts of the country touting the product. Also, Mrs. McDonnell twice purchased thousands of dollars worth of stock in Star Scientific.

It has been reported that the governor and/or his wife arranged meetings between Mr. Williams and a top state official and a Star Scientific executive and another top state official.  Both state officials were from the Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

As of October 25, 2013, the state of Virginia was paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for 5 different lawyers / law firms to represent various entities in the case, including Attorney Michael Herring of the Richmond Commonwealth. Two of the law firms were representing the governor’s office, even though McDonnell had also hired his own private team. The Washington Post suggested that this large group of lawyers was “a sign of the complexity of a months-long investigation.”

Williams, the CEO of Star Scientific, announced that he and the company’s president will resign in December due to state and federal investigations of alleged bribery in conjunction with the McDonnell investigation.

None of the gifts received by Governor McDonnell were reported by him at the time they were received (most of the gifts were given in 2011 and 2012). Apparently, in Virginia, state law does not require that gifts to family members be reported.  It was because of the potential indictment that Governor McDonnell has reported the gifts over the last few months and returned all of the money and some of the other gifts.

Will McDonnell be indicted by the Justice Department? A decision is expected before Thanksgiving.

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3 responses to “Quid pro quo: The McDonnell Scandal

  1. This case is just the tip of a much larger problem in American politics which is undermining democracy and giving ascendancy to plutocracy through the institutionalization of corporatism. The danger is as pernicious as any currently facing our republic, yet it is going on largely unchallenged by the very interests threatened the most by it – the American people. It should be no surprise that the serious issue of money in politics receives scant attention from the corporate-controlled media.

  2. Pingback: Utah and Arkansas Scandals Involving Money in Politics | citizens for truth

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