We were quite sad to see the news of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's indictment on corruption charges. On policy matters, McDonnell turned out to be relatively moderate, and he got some important things done, not the least of which was transportation funding.
Now it looks like he can add to his list of accomplishments ethics reform in Virginia!
McDonnell's downfall is largely attributable to his wife, Maureen. It is not exactly clear how and when Maureen McD. became acquainted with Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of a small pharmaceutical supplement company called Star Scientific, but that "friendship" has proven quite costly.
(A number of years ago, the Curmudgeon ran into Williams and Star Scientific in some tobacco litigation, when the company was peddling what it marketed as a "safer" tobacco. It was clear then that Williams and his company had some strange ideas. Williams is a "big" personality--the kind that most wise people instinctively avoid.)
If the detailed allegations in the indictment against the McDonnells are true, then Maureen McD. apparently saw Williams as someone all too willing to provide her and her husband with extravagant gifts, while Williams saw the McDonnells as potentially willing stooges to shill for his company's questionable products. Like a sugar daddy relationship for power and influence, instead of sex. (We wonder how many other business executives received similar approaches from Maureen McD.--most would run at the first hint of such an obviously improper request.)
Of course, it's nothing new for a governor to promote a homegrown business--it's just part of the job at times--and it's typical for such a business to show a little appreciation, perhaps with a golf outing or a very nice meal. But if the allegations against the McDonnells are true, they should clearly have known that they had crossed the line, big time.
In this case, Maureen McD. allegedly repeatedly went to Williams for favors. These included cash and "loans" for as much as $140,000, and many expensive gifts, including thousands of dollars worth of designer clothing. We love the story of Maureen telling Williams that she needed his help to purchase clothes for a swank dinner in NY. According to the indictment, Williams then accompanied Maureen on a shopping trip where she spent more than $10,000 on designer clothes and accessories from Oscar de la Renta and Louis Vuitton. We can just see the two of them having a good ol' time on a whirlwind tour of NY's high rent shopping district. We wonder what the Governor knew of all this at the time. (You also wonder if there wasn't more to her relationship with Williams, but that's pure speculation at this point.)
Maureen also asked Williams to purchase the Governor a Rolex watch as a "surprise" present. Surprise--you're going to jail. Thanks a lot, honey!
Maureen allegedly told Williams on more than one occasion that she and Bob were "broke". Well, Maureen, people who are broke shouldn't be shopping at Oscar de la Renta and Louis Vuitton!
We're not absolving the Governor on this--while his wife led the charge, he let it happen, one way or the other. And we certainly don't buy his claim that he did nothing wrong, at least if most of the allegations can be proven. There appears to be plenty of evidence that the Governor did favors for Williams and Star Scientific that went well beyond what any other business could expect.
And it's silly to believe that Williams, who is not some childhood or lifelong friend of the McDonnells, was just doing all this out of the goodness of his heart. He certainly expected something for it. In the usual case, a politician will ask someone like Williams to make donations to his or her campaign, and to campaigns of like minded politicians or organizations. While we accept this kind of official corruption all the time, providing personal benefits to state officials in exchange for influence likely violates the law.
It is unfortunate that the McDonnells showed such gross lapses in judgment. Up to this point, Virginia had a good reputation for "clean" politics, at least relative to other jurisdictions (such as Maryland, or NJ). It is now up to the Commonwealth's legislative leaders to push through reforms to discourage this type of behavior from state officials in the future.