The gift, McDonnell said, was to his daughter, not to him, and did not need to be disclosed because the law does not apply to elected officials’ families.
The FBI and the Virginia State Police are now asking questions about the relationship between McDonnell, his wife and the man who provided the wedding gift, Star Scientific. chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. The first couple worked to promote the company as Star and Williams provided more than $120,000 in campaign donations and publicly disclosed gifts.
‘It just came up’
In the vineyard case, Luca Paschina, winemaker and general manager at Barboursville, said the idea for the party grew out of discussions with Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell, who has made the promotion of Virginia wine a particular focus.
Paschina said he learned that the McDonnells were celebrating their 35th anniversary the same year as the vineyard’s. The party celebrated both milestones, and some friends of the vineyard, such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his wife, were in attendance.
“Basically, it just came up in conversation. It wasn’t just a one-sided thing that, ‘Hey, we want your place,’ ” said Paschina, who said he has also given discounts to other Virginia governors to thank them for their support. “We appreciate whoever it is who promotes the industry. It really helps the whole state.”
Several guests who attended the party said it was largely a celebration of the McDonnells. Toasts were offered from people who had served in their wedding party decades earlier, as well as their children.
Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore said the deal allowing Barboursville to export wine to China was an important coup for a growing state industry. Negotiations grew out of a gubernatorial trade mission to China months earlier, and it was crafted separately from any discussions about the party.
“These were two distinct, unique events,” Haymore said.
He said the timing of the formal signing of the contract between Barboursville and the Chinese company Tewoo Group was driven by a visit of a delegation of Chinese business leaders to Virginia, as well as the timing of a trip to Virginia by the Italian owners of the vineyard.
A review of McDonnell’s annual disclosure forms shows he also accepted Redskins tickets in the same year the state negotiated with the team.
The team has given Virginia governors game tickets before. Kaine reported a $252 gift for two suite tickets in 2007, and Warner disclosed that team owner Dan Snyder gave him $150 in tickets in 2002.
But McDonnell’s $19,000 gift last year was by far the largest reported by a Virginia governor in recent years, according to records maintained by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics.