Obstruction of justice. Wire fraud. Money laundering. Racketeering. Manslaughter. These are just some of the charges on which 11 sitting or former U.S. governors have been convicted and served jail time (12 if you count Guam). This is, to me at least, a surprising statistic and worth remembering as one considers the 14-count federal indictment unveiled Tuesday against former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. The indictment, which was foreshadowed in December, stems from an investigation of gifts the McDonnells received from businessman Jonnie Williams. In return for these gifts, it is charged, the governor did official favors for Williams’s diet supplement company. McDonnell has admitted to poor judgment in the matter, but today he vehemently denied that he broke the law and promised a vigorous defense.
Some might say that Virginia was ripe for such a scandal. After all, until newly-elected Gov. Terry McCauliffe changed it (for only one year, by the way), the law allowed public officials to accept unlimited gifts as long as they were reported. Tim Kaine, for example, reported gifts in excess of $300,000 while governor. For that matter, so did McDonnell (although the gifts cited in the indictment were not reported). This kind of lax ethics would seem an invitation to corruption and is one reason the Center for Public Integrity ranked Virginia 47th out of 50 in “state integrity” and gave it an “F” in combating corruption risk.
Yet Virginia has stiff competition. Two recent Illinois governors have gone to jail, as have governors from Alabama, Connecticut, Louisiana, Rhode Island, Arkansas, South Dakota (actually, former South Dakota governor Bill Janklow was convicted of manslaughter while a member of Congress), West Virginia and Guam. According to Wikipedia, the incarceration rate for all U.S. adults is 716 per 100,000. It appears that the incarceration rate for governors may be considerably higher.