Donor gave McDonnell and family a lake-house vacation


This photograph shows a Ferrari owned by Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr. parked at Virginia's historic governor's mansion. A spokesman for Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said that at the conclusion of a vacation provided by Williams in July 2011, the governor and his family drove the car from Smith Mountain Lake to Richmond as a favor to the CEO. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell took a lake-house vacation in 2011 courtesy of the same major campaign donor who paid for the food at the wedding of the governor’s daughter that summer.

When the July vacation ended, the McDonnell family borrowed a Ferrari owned by Star Scientific’s chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. for the three-hour ride back to Richmond. The model had a retail price of $190,000.

McDonnell’s spokesman said the governor and his family have taken a vacation at Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke every summer since he took office in 2010 — each time as a gift from a donor.

McDonnell (R) referenced the 2011 trip on his mandatory financial disclosure forms, spokesman Tucker Martin said. The form includes a line indicating that the governor received $2,268 in “lodging and entertainment” that year from Williams, but it provides no details about the gift.

Under Virginia law, elected officials are allowed to accept gifts of any size, including vacations, provided they are annually disclosed.

The vacation at Williams’s lake house adds new details about McDonnell’s relationship with the donor, which has been under scrutiny since The Washington Post reported that Williams paid $15,000 for catering at the June 2011 wedding of McDonnell’s daughter, Cailin. The gift came as McDonnell and his wife Maureen worked to promote the company, which was introducing a new product.

It also highlights the lack of specificity required of gift disclosures in Virginia. The law sets virtually no requirements for what level of detail needs to be revealed.

McDonnell’s 2011 form provides no indication that the gift from Williams was a vacation, nor does it provide the date of the gift. It offers no breakdown to indicate how he determined what the gift was worth.

There is no ethics panel or other entity in Virginia to review the forms for accuracy.

During his 2009 campaign for governor, McDonnell called for the creation of an ethics panel, but after his election he decided one was unnecessary after the establishment of a new inspector general charged with investigating fraud at state agencies.

Martin, the governor’s spokesman, confirmed the gift from Williams. He said McDonnell and his family stayed for four days at Williams’s home at Smith Mountain Lake, a popular vacation destination.

Martin said that as a favor to the executive, the family drove one of Williams’s cars, a Range Rover, to the lake house and drove the Ferrari back to Richmond from Franklin County.

A picture obtained by The Post shows Williams’s white hardtop Ferrari convertible parked in front of Virginia’s 200-year-old governor’s mansion.

“There was no recreational use of vehicles,” Martin said. “The family was simply helping Mr. Williams get one car to his Smith Mountain Lake house and return another to Richmond.”

Jerry Kilgore, an attorney for Williams, declined to comment.

McDonnell is not the only elected official who has taken family vacations courtesy of donors. In 2005, Timothy M. Kaine (D) reported receiving an $18,000 gift from investor James B. Murray Jr., who had contributed $41,000 to Kaine’s campaign. Kaine was serving as Virginia’s lieutenant governor and was elected governor that year.

Kaine, now a U.S. senator, described the gift on his statement of economic interest as the “free use of Caribbean vacation home.”

A spokeswoman for Kaine said the gift covered the family’s lodging for a trip taken right after Kaine’s election. She said it was the only donation of its kind Kaine received.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II also reported receiving the free use of a lake house and boat from Williams in 2011, which he valued at $3,000.

Martin said McDonnell and his family have accepted lake-house vacations as gifts each year since 2010 — a fact that is not dis­cern­ible from his disclosure forms.

In 2010 and 2012, the trips were funded by Delta Star, a Lynchburg company that manufacturers power transformers and which has contributed $79,000 to McDonnell’s campaign and political action committee. Steve Jones, Delta Star’s chief financial officer, said the company is unrelated to Williams or Star Scientific.

“We have been friends of the governor for quite some time,” Jones said. “Delta Star appreciates the Governor’s pro-business stance on assisting small businesses in Virginia. We know as Governor, it may be hard to get away with family to rest, and our Company is pleased we were able to offer this to him during the summer months.”

In 2010, McDonnell reported receiving $2,474 in “lodging, activities and meals” from Delta Star. In 2012, he indicated that the company provided him with $10,182 in “lodging and event expenses.” There is no mention of a vacation or the lake house.

The 2011 trip, however, came as a gift both from Williams and from Delta Star, from whom McDonnell reported receiving $1,892 in “meals and entertainment.”

Williams’s vacation home is currently for sale, listed at $639,000. A Realtor handling the property said the home has a boat dock and especially good views of the lake.

Hemmed in by the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, the Smith Mountain Lake community offers golf, tennis, a country club and an executive chef, she said. A local ordinance forbids short-term rentals in the community, Realtor Vicki Millehan said.

The summer of 2011 saw intense interactions among the McDonnell family, Williams and his company.

On June 1, 2011, McDonnell’s wife Maureen flew to Florida, where she spoke at a gathering of doctors and investors interested in learning more about anatabine, the key ingredient in a nutritional supplement called Anatabloc that Star Scientific was introducing to the market.

She told the group that she supported the anti-inflammatory product and believed it could be used to lower health-care costs in Virginia, according to attendees.

Three days later, the McDonnells celebrated Cailin McDonnell’s wedding at the governor’s mansion in Richmond, where the food came as a gift from Williams.

McDonnell has said there was no need for him to disclose Williams’s $15,000 check for the food because it was provided as a wedding gift to Cailin and her husband. The law does not require elected officials to disclose gifts to family members.

But documents obtained by The Washington Post show that McDonnell signed the contract for the catering, accepting financial responsibility.

McDonnell has refused to say whether Williams provided other gifts to members of his family.

In August 2011, McDonnell opened the governor’s mansion to a luncheon hosted by his wife that marked the official launch of Anatabloc. A doctor who attended the event said it was intended to make a splash for the product.

The July 28 vacation took place between the wedding and the event at the mansion.

McDonnell has described his and his wife’s efforts to showcase Anatabloc as part of a broad campaign to promote state businesses. He has complied with state gift disclosure laws throughout his time in public office, McDonnell has said. Through a spokesman, he has said he would be open to supporting possible changes in gift laws.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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