McEachin calls for closing Virginia gift loophole

RICHMOND — A senior Virginia Democrat spoke in favor Tuesday of closing the loophole that allows gifts to elected officials’ immediate relatives to go unreported.

“I think it needs to be closed,” said Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico), chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

McEachin made the comment to reporters after being asked about the $15,000 payment a Virginia businessman made to cover catering costs at the June 2011 wedding of one of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s daughters.

Under Virginia law, elected officials may accept unlimited gifts so long as those worth more than $50 are disclosed. Gifts to immediate family members need not be disclosed.

McDonnell (R) did not disclose the payment from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., chief executive of Star Scientific Inc., a former cigarette maker that now produces the nutritional supplement Anatabloc from a substance derived from tobacco. But the governor has said there was no need to do so, contending that it was a gift to his daughter, not him.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that McDonnell personally signed the catering contract and paid nearly $8,000 in deposits for the catering before Williams picked up the tab.

McEachin was asked about the $15,000 payment in the course of a conference call with reporters organized by the Democratic Party of Virginia. It featured McEachin and two other Democratic leaders calling on Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) to resign over what the party called his “inexcusable conflict of interest” with Star.

Cuccinelli, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor, initially failed to disclose substantial stock holdings in the company at a time when the company was suing the state over a tax assessment. Cuccinelli said the lack of disclosure was an oversight, one he corrected in 2012, well before current media inquiries into Star, a financially troubled company that is the subject of a federal securities investigation.

Cuccinelli has disclosed receiving nearly $13,000 in personal gifts from Williams, including temporary lodging at the executive’s Richmond-area home and use of his vacation property and boat.

Cuccinelli last week recused his office from the still-pending tax case. Cuccinelli said he had not been personally involved the case and, therefore, had no conflict of interest. But he handed it off to a private law firm to quiet critics questioning whether his office could vigorously oppose a company to which he has financial and personal ties.

Democrats on Tuesday said Cuccinelli should step down because of his failure to recuse the office from the suit when Star first filed the case in 2011.

Anna Nix, a Cuccinelli campaign spokeswoman, dismissed Democrats’ call for his resignation as an effort to “distract voters” in the governor’s race. Cuccinelli faces Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the race to succeed term-limited McDonnell.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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