Two days later, Cuccinelli’s campaign had a TV ad that said McAuliffe was preying on people on their deathbeds.
McAuliffe moved quickly to try to put the controversy behind him, making a charitable donation of $74,000, an amount representing the $47,000 he says he reaped from the deal as well as a $27,000 donation Caramadre made to the Democrat’s failed 2009 bid for governor.
But the episode still opened a wider window onto how McAuliffe came to invest with Caramadre in 2006 — and provides yet another example of how the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee has mixed business with politics.
McAuliffe made the investment on the advice of Mark Weiner, whom McAuliffe describes as a “longtime party supporter and close friend” in his autobiography, “What a Party!” Thanks to McAuliffe, Weiner is the “tchotchke king of the Democratic Party,” as a fellow Rhode Islander put it.
A committee McAuliffe co-chaired in 1997 gave Weiner exclusive rights to sell commemorative coins, T-shirts and other merchandise to mark President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. At Weiner’s suggestion, McAuliffe even hawked the stuff on the QVC television shopping channel, a sales job he describes in his book as “probably my lowest moment in American politics.”
Nearly a decade later, Weiner connected McAuliffe to Caramadre.
McAuliffe’s campaign confirmed that Weiner put him in touch with Caramadre. Weiner, who has given $85,000 to McAuliffe’s two campaigns for governor, was seriously injured in a car accident in Florida in August and is in no condition to be interviewed, said his wife, Susan Weiner. When asked about McAuliffe and Caramadre, she said she knew nothing.
Caramadre, who hosted a fundraiser for McAuliffe in 2009, also was a big political donor. A Catholic known to wear a large wooden cross around his neck, he hoped to tap his political connections to become his country’s emissary to the church.
“One of his dreams was to be an ambassador to the Vatican,” said Donald Kushner, a Providence, R.I., native and Hollywood producer who met Caramadre and invested with him when he returned to his home state to make a movie.
McAuliffe’s spokesman confirmed that he was aware of Caramadre’s Vatican aspirations.
“Terry heard that it was his dream but never offered to help in any way,” Schwerin said.
Flanders said the scheme benefited everyone.
“This wasn’t a [Bernie] Madoff thing where people were losing any money,” Flanders said. “They were all thousands of dollars richer for having met Mr. Caramadre.”