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Hints of scandal hound the governor in his legacy-making final year. Virginia’s lawmakers should trade the perks of office for peace of mind.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Reporters set upon Gov. Bob McDonnell Monday after he spoke at a Virginia FREE luncheon in Fairfax. Any comment on the latest news: that a member of the Virginia House had been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury as part of an investigation linked to gifts the governor and his family have received?
“I really can’t talk about it,” McDonnell said. “I came to talk about transportation and business.”
Indeed, the appearance was a victory lap, of sorts. The Republican governor’s signature on a transportation money bill this year had earned him the accolade of Virginia’s most effective political leader in a poll of the business association’s members.
But a headline in the Richmond Times-Dispatch the day after the luncheon read: “McDonnell flees queries about probe.”
It’s enough to drive Virginia’s political class to reform.
Well, it should be.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, who also attended the Virginia FREE event, suggested to a reporter that state elected officials take what he called “a sad story” as an opportunity to improve “the whole gift setup” in the commonwealth. Which amounts to reporting gifts valued at more than $50.
Advice from Kaine, a Democrat, might be unwelcome. But it makes good sense: Virginia should ban anything more than token gifts to elected officials, as the federal government does.
That would mean no more free passes to the Redskins game suite (reported by McDonnell in 2012 and valued at $19,000); no more dinners on Dominion (value: $169, as reported last year by Del. Onzlee Ware).
It would take a lot of the fun out of elected office, for sure.
But revelation of a $15,000 gift from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr. to cover the catering for the 2011 wedding of the governor’s daughter — a gift to her, not himself, the governor insists — started a drama that continues to unfold, touching not only McDonnell but his party’s nominee to succeed him.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli also forgot to report gifts — $5,000 in air travel, vacations and a Thanksgiving dinner — from Williams, whose company held its 2011 launch of a dietary supplement at the governor’s mansion.
When gifts just keep on giving this way, lawmakers could decide they’re not worth the grief.
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