But in an interview, James McGlothlin said the $21 million family foundation never named McDonnell to its board.
Instead, McGlothlin said, the family asked Maureen McDonnell to become an adviser to the charitable efforts of both the family foundation and the United Co., a natural resources and real estate company in Bristol, Va., that has made the McGlothlins one of the wealthiest families in the state.
McGlothlin, who founded the company in 1970 and is its chairman and chief executive, said the first lady is paid by the company and not the foundation.
By reporting that his wife was on the board, the governor never had to say on his financial disclosure form how much she was paid. McGlothlin confirmed the salary.
A spokesman for McDonnell declined to comment about the arrangement, saying that all questions about it should be directed to McGlothlin.
Elected officials in Virginia are legally required to disclose any employer that pays their spouses at least $10,000 annually. Separately, they also are required to disclose whether they or their spouses are paid directors or officers of any company.
If the governor had indicated that Maureen McDonnell’s position with the United Co. was a job that provided her with an annual salary, the public would have been able to conclude that her paycheck exceeded the $10,000 reporting threshold.
By listing it as a paid trusteeship instead, he did not have to provide any information about the size of her compensation.
News of the relationship comes as the FBI and Virginia State Police are exploring the McDonnells’ finances as part of an inquiry into the couple’s dealings with Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the chief executive of a dietary supplement manufacturer who paid $15,000 for the catering at the 2011 wedding of the McDonnells’ daughter.
Michael Herring, commonwealth’s attorney in Richmond, has confirmed that he has been conducting a review of McDonnell’s financial disclosures since November.
For a few days of work, Maureen McDonnell picked up a salary nearly equivalent to the average starting pay of a Virginia teacher. As governor, Robert McDonnell is paid $175,000 a year.
McGlothlin said that Maureen McDonnell never asked to be paid but that the company decided to compensate her for her advice. He said the arrangement was born over a dinner at which he, his wife the governor and first lady got to talking about how the McGlothlins’ charitable interests in education and health care aligned with those Maureen McDonnell has pursued as first lady.
He said she attended two or three meetings with company and foundation officials in Bristol as part of the arrangement.
“She definitely didn’t ask,” he said. “We said to ourselves: ‘Hey, I wonder if she would help us with this? It’d be really ideal to have someone of her stature involved.’ ”
Company officials found her advice useful in establishing funding priorities, he said. For instance, he said, Maureen McDonnell has been able to connect the foundation with notable people in Richmond who might be interested in coming to charitable events.
“If you want to invite a bunch of people to something, she’s able to do that,” McGlothlin said.
The public biography of Maureen McDonnell, a former Redskins cheerleader who has owned a business marketing nutritional health-care products, does not indicate that she has worked in professional philanthropy.
Maureen McDonnell, who has been married to Robert McDonnell for 36 years, has increasingly emerged as a central figure in the relationships that have drawn scrutiny to the governor’s finances.
In addition to looking into the $15,000 Williams provided for the catering at the wedding of the McDonnells’ daughter, the FBI and Virginia State Police are also asking questions about other undisclosed gifts Williams provided to Maureen McDonnell and whether the governor might have assisted the company in exchange for those gifts, according to people with knowledge of the questions.
Virginia law requires elected officials to disclose all gifts they receive worth more than $50, but they do not have to disclose gifts to immediate family members. McDonnell has said the $15,000 was a gift to his daughter and not to him.
Three days before the wedding, Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida and offered a testimonial to doctors and investors about the potential benefits of Anatabloc, an anti-inflammatory not approved by the Food and Drug Administration that Williams’s company was then introducing to market.
She then organized an event at the executive mansion a few months after the wedding that marked Anatabloc’s formal launch.
McDonnell aides have said Maureen McDonnell’s interest in Star Scientific was just one part of her extensive efforts to promote Virginia-based companies. They said the company’s work also dovetailed with her interest in preventive health care.
The McGlothlins, meanwhile, are well-known philanthropists in Virginia. With $40 million in assets in 2011, the United Company Charitable Foundation funded a program in 2011 to bring hot meals five days a week to more than 1,000 low-income people in the Bristol area. It also ran a scholarship program at a school for at-risk children in Grundy, according to public IRS filings.
James McGlothlin said he and his wife launched their own foundation a few years ago as he began to phase out his day-to-day work with the company. Its assets have reached $21 million, and contributions go to dozens of health-care and educational institutions in Virginia and other states.
The couple also recently contributed $25 million to Virginia Commonwealth University for a new medical building and gave an estimated $100 million to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, helping to fund a new addition. A 2010 black-tie reception celebrating the opening of the new wing, which bears the couple’s names, drew the McDonnells along with five former Virginia governors.
James McGlothlin said that he appreciated Maureen McDonnell’s input into the company’s efforts and that he sometimes meets with her to discuss projects on visits to Richmond.
“She’s been very, very helpful,” he said. “She has lots of ideas about how to help with kids and education.”
It is not clear how the McGlothlins and McDonnells became close, although McDonnell has been supportive of the coal industry in Virginia.
Last year, he attended a rally designed to support the industry, flying to Abingdon on the private plane of Alpha Natural Resources, another major coal company. He also supported
a 2012 bill in the General Assembly that extends until 2017 a tax credit for coal companies that had been set to expire in 2015.
Started in the 1970s as a coal company, the United Co. and its subsidiaries continue to run coal mining operations in Virginia and a number of other states. The company is also active in financial services, oil and gas and owns golf courses and other real estate.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.