Beware gifts from friends

As long time readers of this blog probably know, I worked for many years in Virginia state government and I grew up in Virginia politics.  OK, so the Virginia laws on accepting gifts may be a little murky, but every state employee I’ve ever known understands that one cannot accept anything of any value from anyone with whom one does business.  The constituent who sends Christmas candy, for example, to thank you for providing some information.  That candy can be accepted if shared with the office.  You can’t take it home.  Plus you should consult the assistant attorney general assigned to your office so there is a record.

A former governor and former state attorney general should know this.  Bob McDonnell likely did and decided he was above the law.  He isn’t.  At least he isn’t above indictment.  The Washington Post published a list of the most interesting of the counts.  Here are some of them.  It begins with shopping.

April 11-13, 2011: The dress and a seat next to the governor

Maureen McDonnell called Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. on April 11 and asked him to take her on a shopping trip to New York to buy a dress by designer Oscar de la Renta. The first lady explained that she was attending a political event at the Union League Club in New York two days later and promised to get Williams seated next to McDonnell (R). On the shopping trip, Williams accompanied the first lady to numerous designer stores and spent $10,999 at Oscar de la Renta, more than $5,500 at Louis Vuitton and roughly $2,604 at Bergdorf Goodman for dresses and accessories that McDonnell said she needed for her daughter’s wedding and for her own anniversary party. Williams was seated next to the governor at the Union League Club event.

May 9-June 1, 2011: Receiving checks from Williams and promoting his company

A member of the governor’s staff indicated May 9 that the staff was considering plans to have McDonnell visit a Star Scientific promotional event on June 1 in Florida. “[T]he person inviting the Governor is a good friend so I would like to be as responsive as possible,” the staff member wrote. A staff member told the company that the McDonnells’ daughter’s wedding, the same week as the corporate event, would make the trip impossible.

“I’m so sorry this won’t work out! What else can we do to fix this?” the staff member wrote.

On May 17, Maureen McDonnell scheduled herself to attend the promotional event.

On May 23, Williams had his office assistant write two checks, for $50,000 and for $15,000 as a wedding gift, and delivered them in person to the governor’s mansion.

On June 1, Maureen McDonnell attended the company’s promotional event in Sarasota, Fla., which was also attended by numerous Star Scientific investors, and announced that she was offering the governor’s mansion for the official product launch of Anatabloc.

August 2011: The Rolex, free golf and a product launch

On Aug. 1, Maureen McDonnell met privately with Williams before the state health official’s briefing to discuss ways that the state could research Star Scientific’s Anatabloc product. The first lady asked about the Rolex watch that Williams was wearing and mentioned that she wanted to get one for her husband, but Williams expressed surprise that the governor would want to wear a luxury item, given his role as a public official. The first lady responded that she wanted Williams to buy her one to give to the governor. Soon afterward, he did buy the watch and called the first lady to ask what she wanted engraved on the Rolex. She replied: “71st Governor of Virginia.” The same day, the governor’s wife entered an electronic calendar event for herself to attend an Aug. 30 luncheon with Virginia state researchers.

On Aug. 12, Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff arranged for the governor to attend the Aug. 30 luncheon.

On Aug. 30, the governor and his wife played host at a luncheon at the governor’s mansion for the launch of Anatabloc. Williams helped craft the guest list, which included some of the same University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University research scientists whom Star Scientific was trying to persuade to conduct clinical trials of Anatabloc. The first lady and Williams placed Anatabloc samples at each table setting.

January-February 2012: Big loans to the McDonnells and a push for state research:

In late January, the governor’s brother-in-law e-mailed him to say that “the guy who is helping us” had contacted him about where to send the first check he planned to provide for MoBo, a real estate holding company that McDonnell owned with his sister.

On Feb. 9, the first lady e-mailed her husband and copied his senior policy adviser under the subject heading: “FW: Anatabine clinical studies – UVA, VCU, JHU.” In her message, she wrote: “Here’s the info from JW. He has calls in to VCU & UVA & no one will return his calls.”

The next day, she asked her husband’s policy adviser to please call Williams that same day and “get him to fill u in on where this is at. Gov wants to know why nothing has developed w studies after [JW] gave $200,000

Thanks, -mm.”

The McDonnells

Jeff Schapiro wrote in his column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch

In the indictment Tuesday, a picture emerges of McDonnell as a politician who rationalizes his behavior. This is a man who apparently told himself that — because Williams had become an intimate and because gifts from friends do not have to be disclosed under state law — he could conceal from the public beneficence that it would almost certainly deem indefensible.

And it was behind that screen, the indictment argues, that an elaborate scheme unfolded — one in which the government of Virginia, following enthusiastic assurances by Maureen McDonnell to Williams, pledged to support his money-losing company.

Was it the Governor’s wife who was the real driving force behind all of this?  Did they have financial problems all along?  Did they see election to Governor as a signal they needed to live the life of the rich?  Will Governor Bob “Ultrasound” McDonnell end up in federal prison?  I guess we will find out.

Photograph:  Bob Brown, Richmond Times Dispatch

The times they are a-changin’

(with apologies to Bob Dylan)

I spent a lot of years in Virginia as those of you who follow my blog may remember and I still try to follow the politics there as best I can from a distance.  This morning I ran across an interesting story in today’s Washington Post about Creigh Deeds.  So I went to the local Richmond paper and could find nothing to confirm the Post story, but did find some new poll numbers which may help explain the new Deeds tactic.

In an August 5th story, my old friend Jeff Schapiro wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch

For the second time in as many weeks, a published poll is showing Republican Bob McDonnell with a double-digit lead for governor over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds.

Public Policy Polling yesterday put McDonnell ahead of Deeds, 51 percent to 37 percent. Four weeks ago, the Raleigh, N.C.-based survey group reported McDonnell leading Deeds, 49 percent to 43 percent.

The poll suggests that McDonnell, a former state attorney general, is getting a lift from pushback among Virginians to President Barack Obama. Though he carried the state last year, his popularity is falling, apparently because of skittishness over the economy.

Jeff goes on to quote another old friends (and dissertation advisor), Bob Holsworth

Regardless, the new poll could stir concerns among Democrats — even in the depths of summer, when many voters aren’t focusing on politics — that Deeds, a state senator from Bath County, is in trouble, said analyst Robert D. Holsworth.

“At the moment, Republicans are far more enthusiastic about this elections than Democrats,” Holsworth wrote yesterday on his blog, VirginiaTomorrow. com.

“I still think there is plenty of time for the Dems to recover. But pulling the covers over your head and pretending that it’s still yesterday rarely works. The Democrats will have to recognize that the climate this year is vastly different than 2001, 2005 and even 2008.”

There are issues with the way the polls were conducted using the telephone push one if you are for McDonnell, two for Deeds method, but putting that aside it is what Creigh Deeds is doing to catch up that is most interesting.  According to the Post

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds will launch a campaign this week to portray his opponent’s longtime efforts to restrict abortion as out of the mainstream, a potentially risky strategy for a Democrat in the once solidly conservative state.

Deeds (Bath), a state senator who supports abortion rights, said he will join female supporters in Annandale on Monday for the first of three events across the state where he will argue that Republican Robert F. McDonnell devoted too much of his 17 years in public office working to limit access to abortions. McDonnell has said he is against abortion in every instance, including rape and incest, except when the life of the mother is in danger.

There was a time when the politcally correct thing to say about abortion rights if you were a Virginia Democrat was that abortion was legal and the decision was a personal one to be made between the woman, her family and her doctor.

The early statewide pitch by Deeds is a bold gamble that the demographics and politics of Virginia have shifted so quickly and decisively that raising a divisive issue such as abortion, which Republicans attempted to use to their advantage for much of this decade, is now favorable to Democrats. Although advocates on both sides of the issue rank Virginia as one of the more restrictive states on abortion, a Washington Post poll in September found that 60 percent of Virginia voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a number that has not changed significantly in recent years.

Deeds’s strategy is a departure from the approach that worked for the state’s past two Democratic governors, who generally played down touchy social issues and focused instead on the issues they said voters cared about more: traffic, schools and other quality-of-life issues.

Deeds said it’s important for voters to be aware of McDonnell’s deep commitment to antiabortion causes. As an example, he pointed to a speech McDonnell delivered to the National Right to Life Committee in Arlington County last year, in which the then-attorney general saluted “all you pro-life warriors for Virginia for all you’ve done to turn Virginia around and make it a pro-life state.”

I hope this works to motivate Democrats and women to vote.  As Bob Holsworth says there is plenty of time.  The economy is turning around and this gamble may do the trick for Deeds.