The wedding gift, which was not disclosed by McDonnell, is just one element of the McDonnells’ close relationship with Williams and his company, a relationship that has included rides on Williams’s corporate jet, personal gifts to the first family and efforts by the governor and his wife to promote the company.
Events surrounding the first daughter’s wedding show the extent of the bond.
Just about the time Cailin McDonnell got married, Williams’s company, Star Scientific, was introducing a dietary supplement called Anatabloc, whose key ingredient is found in tobacco and other plants.
Anatabloc was crucial to the future of the company, which has been losing money for years. But the science behind the product — an anti-inflammatory the company hopes might be helpful to people with such ailments as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis — was unproven.
Three days before her daughter’s June wedding, Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida, where she spoke at a seminar for scientists and investors interested in anatabine, the key chemical in Anatabloc, according to people who attended the conference.
The governor’s wife told the group that she supported the product and touted the pill, which is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, as a way to lower health-care costs in Virginia, the attendees said.
About three months after the wedding, the McDonnells and Star Scientific were together again, this time at the governor’s mansion for the official launch party for Anatabloc.
McDonnell and Williams both declined to be interviewed for this article. Through a spokesman, the governor responded to a list of questions. In his written answers to some of those questions, the spokesman, Jeff Caldwell, said Williams picked up the catering bill for the wedding as a gift to Cailin and her husband, Chris Young. Because it was not a gift to the governor, Virginia law did not require McDonnell to include it on his annual disclosure form, Caldwell said.
Caldwell said the first family’s efforts on behalf of Virginia-based Star Scientific were typical of what any governor would do to promote the state’s businesses and products.
In Internet forums, boosters of the company’s stock have cited the connection to the McDonnells as a reason to believe in Star Scientific, despite its shaky finances. A photo of the smiling governor holding a packet of Anatabloc has appeared on the Anatabloc Facebook page. (Caldwell said McDonnell, who has used the supplement, did not authorize the use of the picture.)