Cuccinelli failed to disclose Williams gifts


Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli gestures as he talks about the Supreme Court decision on federal health care reform during a news conference June 28, 2012, in Richmond. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)
April 26, 2013

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II announced Friday that he had received more gifts from Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. than he had previously reported and that he had asked the Richmond commonwealth’s attorney to review his disclosure filings.

Cuccinelli, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor, said he failed to report two stays that he and his family made at Williams’s Smith Mountain Lake vacation house: one over Thanksgiving in 2010, when Williams also supplied a catered turkey dinner, and the other last summer. Cuccinelli valued those gifts at a combined $4,500.

He also failed to report a $628 flight to New York, paid for by Williams, to attend a Jewish community center event in 2009. Those gifts were on top of others worth nearly $13,000 that Cuccinelli had previously reported receiving from Williams and his company, including another stay at the lake house near Roanoke in 2011.

Cuccinelli announced the previously undisclosed gifts a month after The Washington Post reported that he had initially failed to report substantial stock holdings in Star, which is the subject of a federal securities investigation and two shareholder lawsuits. The Post also reported at that time that Williams had paid the $15,000 catering bill for the wedding of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s daughter in June 2011, a gift the governor said he did not disclose because it was a present to the bride, not to him.

Cuccinelli’s disclosure lapses — both unintentional, the attorney general said — could complicate his bid to position himself as the straight-shooter in the race for governor against former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. Republicans have touted Cuccinelli as a blunt-but-honest politician who can be trusted more than McAuliffe, whose fundraising for Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and fledgling electric car venture have drawn controversy.

Last week, Cuccinelli took the unusual step of releasing eight years of tax returns and challenging McAuliffe to do the same. McAuliffe supplied three years of tax summaries.

After Cuccinelli’s admission Friday about unreported gifts, McAuliffe’s campaign issued a statement saying he would take a harder line on ethics reform than Cuccinelli would. “While Terry McAuliffe will hold himself to a high standard of accountability through an executive order, Ken Cuccinelli is once more refusing to agree to strong ethics rules,” a McAuliffe spokesman, Josh Schwerin, said.

Cuccinelli said he simply forgot to include the gifts when filing the annual disclosure forms that elected officials must submit to the state. He said a staff member reminded him last week of his 2012 vacation at Williams’s lake house, prompting him to review his form for that year. He saw then that he had not included last summer’s stay at the lake house, he said, and then reviewed calendars from previous years and realized there had been other oversights.

“I missed some things that I was supposed to disclose,” Cuccinelli said. “It was all inadvertent.”

He found two other gifts he should have disclosed, neither from Williams: a chartered flight worth $7,751 for himself and his parents to Southwest Virginia, where Cuccinelli gave a speech, provided by Alpha Natural Resources; and transportation worth $795 from the Federation of American Coal, Energy and Security.

Until recently, Cuccinelli owned stock in Star, a former cigarette maker that makes the nutritional supplement Anatabloc from a substance found in tobacco. Cuccinelli initially failed to disclose his stock holdings but corrected what he said was an oversight last year, before the company came under media scrutiny.

Democrats contend that Cuccinelli had conflicts of interests in two cases tied to the Star executive: a civil lawsuit that Star brought to challenge a state tax assessment, and a felony embezzlement case against a former chef at the governor’s mansion.

Cuccinelli recently sought to recuse his office from both. He announced April 4 that he would hand off Star’s tax-assessment lawsuit to private attorneys. This week, his office announced it would seek recusal from the case of the mansion chef. That came two days after the chef, Todd Schneider, who catered Cailin McDonnell’s wedding reception at the mansion in June 2011, indicated in a legal motion that he intends to raise questions about Williams’s gifts to the McDonnell family as part of his defense.

Cuccinelli said that line of defense would complicate his office’s efforts to prosecute the case because he acts as the governor’s lawyer.

Cuccinelli’s campaign called Richmond area reporters to the office of the state Republican Party on Friday afternoon to announce that he had failed to report some gifts. In response to a question, Cuccinelli disclosed that a total of five members of his office had stayed temporarily at another house owned by Williams, that one in suburban Richmond.

The Post had previously reported that Cuccinelli and at least two members of his staff had stayed there right after he was elected attorney general, while they were settling into their new jobs in Richmond.

Cuccinelli also said that he would support tighter rules governing gifts to public officials, including eliminating the loophole that allows gifts to their immediate relatives to go unreported. He also said that the attorney general, who has oversight over financial disclosures for elected officials, should not be responsible for reviewing his own form, which is the case now. In that spirit, he said, he asked the Richmond commonwealth’s attorney to review his disclosures.

Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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