Cuccinelli calls for tighter Virginia gift laws

April 10, 2013

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II said Wednesday that he favors requiring public officials to disclose gifts to immediate family members, such as the wedding reception a Virginia businessman helped bankroll for the governor’s daughter.

The presumptive Republican nominee for governor said he favors tightening Virginia gift laws in response to a question from The Washington Post, which reported recently that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. picked up the $15,000 catering tab for the June 2011 wedding of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s daughter.

Elected officials in Virginia are allowed to accept gifts of any value, but they must disclose any worth more than $50. McDonnell (R), who is term-limited, did not disclose the $15,000 gift from Williams, chief executive of Star Scientific. The governor said there was no need because it was a present to his daughter Cailin, not him.

“Since his days in the state senate and as Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli has made government and ethical transparency a top priority and he will continue this fight as governor,” Cuccinelli campaign spokeswoman Anna Nix wrote in an e-mail Wednesday. “With the goal of a completely open and honest government, Cuccinelli supports any effort to close existing loopholes regarding gifts to immediate family members.”

Cuccinelli also has ties to Williams and Star, a former cigarette maker that makes a nutritional supplement derived from tobacco.

The attorney general did not disclose that he held more than $10,000 in company stock in 2011, the same year the company filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s tax assessment of its Mecklenberg County tobacco barns. Cuccinelli’s office represented the state in the matter until Friday, when he handed off the case to a private law firm amid complaints that it presented a conflict of interest.

Cuccinelli’s campaign has said the failure was an oversight stemming from the fact that he acquired the stock in two purchases a year apart. Once he realized his holdings exceeded $10,000, the threshold for disclosure under state law, he amended his form last year to correct the error.

He has disclosed receiving nearly $13,000 in personal gifts from Williams.

Democrats have criticized Cuccinelli over his connections to Star, the subject of a federal securities investigation and two lawsuits brought by shareholders who say Star overstated the scientific promise of the supplement, Anatabloc. The company has said the anti-inflammatory could aid people with Alzheimer’s disease and other ailments.

McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, have promoted the product, and the first lady spoke at a conference for investors in Florida three days before the June wedding. They hosted a gathering to launch the product at the mansion that August.

McDonnell has said their efforts on behalf of Star have been within the normal bounds of boosterism for Virginia business. A spokesman for McDonnell said this week that he would be “open to supporting future changes” to require disclosure of gifts to family members.

Cuccinelli’s Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, also supports tighter gift laws, said campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin.

Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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