RICHMOND — For $100,000, you can have a private dinner with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the first lady, participate in a roundtable discussion with the governor and sit down every month with “policy experts.”
McAuliffe (D) this week announced the formation of a political action committee, Common Good Virginia PAC. The announcement came with a list of events that donors may participate in for donations ranging from $10,000 to $100,000.
There is nothing unusual about Virginia governors creating PACs to fund like-minded candidates. And donors routinely pay a premium to rub elbows with political figures at VIP receptions.
But McAuliffe’s solicitation seems to stand out because it sells access not only to special events where the governor would mingle with donors but also to a package of seemingly intimate sit-down meetings with the governor and “policy experts.”
McAuliffe’s immediate predecessor, Robert F. McDonnell (R), faces federal corruption charges alleging that he gave special treatment to a businessman, including access to top administration officials, in exchange for $165,000 in gifts and loans. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, who was also charged, contend that they broke no laws.
McAuliffe’s office referred questions to the political action committee.
“There’s nothing out of the ordinary,” said Michael Halle, adviser to the committee. “This is just a standard fundraising system where people are able to go to events for a certain donation.”
Halle said it had not been determined who the “policy experts” would be, but he said they would not be Cabinet secretaries or other administration officials. He said they were more likely to be people such as other governors, perhaps from states where Medicaid has been expanded, as McAuliffe is trying to do in Virginia.
“The policy experts are folks outside of the administration that can provide additional policy context for Governor McAuliffe’s accomplishments and policy initiatives,” he said.
McAuliffe’s fundraising appeal comes at a time of heightened sensitivity to ethical lapses in the wake of the McDonnell scandal.
It emerged in the middle of a two-week break: between the conclusion of the regular General Assembly session and a special session to begin next week that McAuliffe says should be devoted to hearing from constituents on Medicaid expansion. An impasse over the issue has prevented passage of the state budget. Republicans had wanted to extend the regular session, during which fundraising would have been prohibited under state law.
The fundraising letter could play into one of the legal arguments advanced by McDonnell’s defense: that what the former governor did for Jonnie R. Williams Sr. when he was Star Scientific chief executive, such as setting up meetings between the supplement-maker and top state health officials, were political courtesies often extended to big donors.
Although Williams went beyond political contributions — bestowing personal gifts on McDonnell’s family — some of McAuliffe’s fiercest critics drew a comparison to the McDonnell case.
“Federal prosecutors have indicted former Governor McDonnell on the basis that he took gifts and set up meetings,” Pat Mullins, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said in a statement. “If doing that is an indictable offense, then what does it mean when you quite literally sell access to a sitting governor, and then have the gall to print up a price list to send around via blast email?”
As McAuliffe’s critics were quick to point out Tuesday, he was at the center of a controversy over rewarding President Clinton’s supporters with stays in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House.
“Governor McAuliffe’s claim to fame was selling access to the Lincoln bedroom,” Matthew Moran, spokesman for House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), said in an e-mail. “Is anyone surprised he’s selling access to the Governor’s mansion? Meanwhile, local governments continue under a cloud of uncertainty, waiting for the state to pass a budget, because the Governor needed two weeks to fundraise before the special session.”