Gov. McAuliffe’s PAC gets a hefty donation from major Democratic fundraiser

— A major Democratic fundraiser who played a role in a couple of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s more colorful and controversial moments has stepped up to make the first big donation to the governor's political action committee.

Mark Weiner, a Rhode Island marketing executive, wrote a $10,000 check last week to Common Good VA.

Weiner and McAuliffe are longtime friends who have worked together in business and national Democratic politics, producing McAuliffe’s short-lived gig as a QVC pitchman for Democratic National Committee bling and facilitating one of his bigger campaign headaches, over an investment that allowed McAuliffe to profit from a stranger’s death.

Michael Halle, adviser to Common Good VA, said the donation was not the PAC’s first, just the first large enough to trigger immediate disclosure. There have been more than 50 other donations, all under $10,000, he said.

“This donation came from a longtime national political donor who has supported causes and campaigns across the country for years,” Halle said.

In 1997, McAuliffe co-chaired a committee that gave Weiner exclusive rights to sell merchandise to mark President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration.

At Weiner’s suggestion, McAuliffe sold the commemorative coins, T-shirts and other items on the QVC television shopping channel. The sales job was “probably my lowest moment in American politics,” McAuliffe wrote in his autobiography, “What a Party!

Weiner popped up during last fall’s campaign, when it was disclosed that McAuliffe had profited from an investment scheme that involved betting on the lives of terminally ill patients. Weiner had introduced McAuliffe to Joseph Caramadre, the Rhode Island estate planner convicted of stealing the identities of terminally ill patients as part of the scheme.

There was no indication that McAuliffe or other investors were aware that patients were sometimes duped into participating.

During the campaign, McAuliffe made a charitable donation of $74,000, an amount representing the $47,000 he said he reaped from the deal as well as a $27,000 donation Caramadre had made to the Democrat’s failed 2009 bid for governor.

“When the Governor was made aware of the annuities scheme he immediately donated all profits to charity,” Halle said in an e-mail.Weiner’s largesse to Common Good VA drew immediate criticism from Republicans, who had already slammed the newly created PAC for bluntly promising donors access to McAuliffe and unspecified “policy experts.”

“This might be a record. Most PACs manage to get at least one donation in the door before it becomes connected to some sort of scandal,” said Garren Shipley. “But this is just par for the course with Terry McAuliffe. Virginians expect better than this.”

For $10,000, Weiner could count on attending spring and fall PAC retreats, participating in a roundtable discussion with the governor and attending monthly meetings with “policy experts.”

For ten times that amount, a donor would also get access to other events, including a private spring reception with the governor and first lady and a private dinner with the McAuliffes in late fall.

There is nothing new about Virginia governors creating PACs to fund like-minded candidates, or donors paying a premium to mingle with political figures at VIP receptions. But McAuliffe’s critics said he was more bluntly selling access with packages of seemingly intimate sit-down meetings with him and experts.

Halle said that the experts would not be members of the administration. He said the PAC was in line with “standard” fund-raising practices.

Former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) has invoked McAuliffe’s PAC as part of his defense in a federal corruption case. McDonnell, who is accused of setting up meetings with state officials and taking other actions to benefit a businessman who showered his family with gifts, has said he did nothing more than provide the courtesies normally extended to donors. The former governor says in court filings that the McAuliffe PAC lays out what is plainly known in politics: money buys access — often legally.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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