Cuccinelli’s office had previously declined to confirm such a probe, but he acknowledged it after Herring released information about the review in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
The state probe is separate from an inquiry by the FBI into whether McDonnell (R) might have violated federal law by promoting a dietary supplement manufacturer in exchange for gifts from its chief executive.
McDonnell and his political campaigns accepted more than $120,000 in donations and disclosed gifts from Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. as McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, worked to boost the company’s business.
Attorneys in Cuccinelli’s office were informed in March 2012 by the former chef at the executive mansion that Williams had paid the $15,000 catering bill at the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter, according to court documents.
McDonnell did not disclose the gift. Virginia law requires elected officials to annually disclose all gifts worth more than $50, but the governor has said that the catering gift did not need to be disclosed because it was given not to him but to his daughter. The law does not require that gifts to immediate family members be disclosed. However, McDonnell signed the contract for the catering, assuming financial responsibility for the bill.
Virginia law offers minimal penalties for failing to meet disclosure requirements. It is a misdemeanor, for instance, to knowingly omit information from the forms filed each January. It is also a misdemeanor to exchange official government acts for gifts or money.
And while it is illegal to accept gifts so frequently as to create the impression of using a public office for private gain, the law specifically says violators of the statute are not subject to any criminal penalty.
Knowingly violating the disclosure statutes, however, is considered “malfeasance in office,” and a judge or jury can order an official found guilty to forfeit his office.
Federal corruption statutes — the subject of preliminary FBI interviews — involve potentially far more serious consequences.
In a statement, Cuccinelli said he directed Herring to conduct the probe after “information came to my attention that triggered my requirement to look into the matter.”
A spokesman for McDonnell said the governor is cooperating with the state investigation, which was first reported Wednesday by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“We are aware of the review and look forward to working with them as this process moves forward,” spokesman Tucker Martin said.
Virginia law gives the state attorney general jurisdiction to review whether state officials have complied with laws requiring disclosure of gifts and other financial information.