About six months into the governor’s term, the official who oversees mansion spending told the McDonnells that they should not have charged taxpayers for a number of expenses, including deodorant, shoe repairs and dry-cleaning their children’s clothing. The official asked the McDonnells to pay the state back more than $300, which they did, and also gave them a refresher on what the state will and won’t provide for occupants of the governor’s mansion.
But since that time, state records show that the McDonnells have continued to let taxpayers pick up the tab for numerous personal items, including vitamins, nasal spray and sleep-inducing elixirs.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, The Washington Post sought records of personal expenses covered by the state over the couple’s 31
2 years in the mansion. The full cost of those items is unknown because the state released only 16 sales receipts, most of them from 2011. State records show that there were many more personal shopping trips — nine others in January 2011 alone, including two to Bed Bath & Beyond to pick up “college stuff” for the McDonnells’ children.
The McDonnells repaid the state for at least some personal items purchased on those occasions. But without receipts, it is impossible to know whether they fully reimbursed taxpayers. The few receipts that were released show only partial repayment.
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin declined to say why other receipts were not released.
Based on the disclosed records, the amount of personal expenses the McDonnells billed to the state is small — less than $600, including the $300 they repaid. But the disclosure comes at time when spending at Virginia’s Executive Mansion is already under scrutiny.
The FBI and a federal grand jury are investigating the $15,000 catering tab at Cailin McDonnell’s mansion wedding in June 2011 that was paid by a McDonnell campaign donor. That same donor, Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr., also lent the governor his Ferrari, lakeside vacation home and private jet. A Richmond prosecutor also is investigating whether the governor violated state gift disclosure laws.
Emerging as the former mansion chef faces charges of stealing food from the kitchen, the McDonnells’ expense records provide some insight into how the executive home has been managed. The chef has alleged that the McDonnells — already entitled to a free mansion, food, personal chef, maids and one of nation’s few state-funded butlers — have engaged in petty pilfering.
In court filings submitted as part of his defense, chef Todd Schneider has said that the McDonnells’ five children raided the mansion kitchen and liquor cabinet, taking large quantities of food and alcohol to their own homes or college dorm rooms. He also said that Maureen McDonnell had given away mansion pots and pans to her three daughters. McDonnell has declined to respond to those accusations, noting the ongoing criminal case against the chef.
Martin said the McDonnells have sought to properly distinguish personal expenses from state ones while living in the mansion, a 200-year-old Federal-style gem that is a public building and a private residence.
“Every Administration strives to balance private family life with the official state functions that are all occurring under the same roof, at the same time,” Martin said in an e-mail. “It is a balance and there is a constant effort to ensure that it is appropriately managed. The McDonnell Administration has adhered to precedent in reimbursing the state for items meant for personal use.”
In the McDonnell family’s first six months in the mansion, taxpayers paid for dry-cleaning the twin sons’ suits and shirts, repairing the first lady’s shoes and putting new shoulder pads into an item of her clothing. The McDonnells billed their energy drinks, body wash, deodorant and breath-freshening strips to the state as well.
Virginians paid for a $62 laminated banner to celebrate the twins’ high school graduation, with a state employee picking up the sign at the print shop and paying for it with the mansion credit card. When Ginger, the sheltie/terrier mix billed as “Virginia’s first dog,” needed vitamins, the McDonnells passed the $9.49 expense to taxpayers.
Eventually, an official who reviews mansion spending kicked those expenses back and asked the McDonnells to reimburse the commonwealth $317.27. The McDonnells paid the money back.
“These expenses are personal ones, that due to auditing and the direction of Dennis Johnson, Division Director of DSAS [Division of Selected Agency Support Services], cannot be covered by the State or Mansion funds,” mansion director Sarah Scarbrough said in a note to the McDonnells in the fall of 2010.
The state will cover the cost of dry-cleaning for the governor and first lady, basic hygiene items, “including toilet paper, mouthwash, bar soap,” cleaning and laundry supplies, and food for family meals, state functions and events, Johnson said in the memo.
But it does not cover the cost of clothing alterations, dry-cleaning for other family members, deodorant or body wash, pet food or treats, or food for non-family meals or non-state functions, Johnson wrote.
The McDonnells directly pushed back on one front, insisting that the state continue to pay for their energy drinks. The governor’s chief of staff, Martin Kent, overruled Johnson to allow the drinks at state expense.
“While other governors and spouses may have had bacon and eggs, or cereal, or etc for breakfast, Governor McDonnell drinks Boost every morning, and the First Lady has a 5-Hour energy and/or a Boost,” Martin wrote. “That is their breakfast. And that is why those items are covered, just like breakfast is covered for EVERY Governor and First Lady.”
Like all new governors and their families, the McDonnells were told the expense rules at the outset of the administration but needed some time for them to sink in, Johnson said in an interview. Energy drinks aside, Johnson said that ever since he gave the McDonnells their refresher on what the state will and won’t pay for, their spending has been in line with state policy.
“Typically when an administration comes in, we do discuss things,” he said. “There are growing pains, and early on in the administration, there will be some things we have to review and discuss.”
But sales receipts released by the state indicate that energy drinks are not the only extra the governor and first lady have continued to get at state expense. They went on to bill taxpayers for myriad medicine-cabinet products, vitamins and the body wash that Johnson said shouldn’t be billed, records show.
Records also show that the McDonnells used state employees to run personal errands for their children — and directed the employees to use the mansion credit card to pay for their children’s personal items.
In some cases, personal items for the McDonnell children are the only products listed on mansion credit card receipts. In those instances, the errands do not appear to have been performed in conjunction with any official state business.
In July 2011, for example, a state employee picked up Rachel McDonnell’s hemmed pants at Lucy’s Divine Creations, located 20 minutes west of the mansion. And that November, a worker was dispatched to Handcraft Cleaners, 30 minutes away, to get a box for Cailin McDonnell’s wedding dress. The $24 charge for the hemming and the $49.50 cost of the box went on the mansion credit card. The McDonnells later repaid the state for those personal expenses, but not for the use of employee time.
Martin said that Maureen McDonnell would have run those errands herself, but because she is the first lady, she must always travel with a security detail.
“First Ladies have Executive Police Protection,” Martin wrote. “They cannot just jump in their own car and run errands. Therefore the reimbursement process exists to allow First Families to reimburse for personal items that may have been picked up by staff.”