McDonnell backers start legal defense fund


Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on June 24, 2013. (Steve Helber/AP)

Supporters of Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell have established a legal-defense fund for the Republican, the subject of state and federal investigations related to his connection to a businessman who showered the first family with luxury items, monetary gifts and loans.

Restoration Fund was formed this week as a nonprofit corporation but one that will function as a political organization — meaning donations will not be tax-deductible, according to Stanley Baldwin, a Virginia Beach lawyer who will be its chairman.

“We believe that Bob McDonnell has complied with the laws of Virginia as they relate to financial disclosures,” Baldwin said Friday in a prepared statement announcing the fund’s formation. “For a decades-long public servant like Governor McDonnell, the legal fees being incurred by the investigations spurred by the case against the former mansion chef could be ruinous.

“The Governor’s friends want to ensure that he can wage a vigorous defense and clear his good name. Bob McDonnell’s over four decades of public service to Virginia and the nation, in the U.S. Army, as a prosecutor, Delegate, Attorney General and as Governor has always been one of leadership and conviction.”

The gifts to the McDonnells came under scrutiny after chef Todd Schneider, who was charged with embezzlement, told authorities that Jonnie R. Williams Sr., chief executive of Star Scientific, paid for the catering at the wedding of one of the McDonnells’ daughters.

Timeline: Star Scientific and Gov. McDonnell

Restoration Fund says it will not accept contributions from state employees, administration officials, board or commission appointees or leaders of any organization with business before the commonwealth.

“Donations to the fund will not be not tax deductible as charitable contributions for federal income tax purposes, and persons that contribute more than $200 will be disclosed to the IRS and made public on a regular basis,” Baldwin’s announcement said.

The announcement did not say how much, if any, has been collected to date. Organizers did not immediately return a call.

McDonnell is assembling a defense team that includes John Brownlee, former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, as well as a privately funded spokesman to field questions.

Hampton Roads businessman Tom Knox and Virginia Beach lawyer Jason Miyares are serving on the fund’s board with Baldwin.

Investigators are looking into McDonnell’s relationship to Williams and others who have provided expensive gifts to the first family. Those include luxury items, such as a $6,500 Rolex for the governor and a $15,000 shopping spree for the first lady. Williams has also given monetary gifts or loans worth $145,000.

McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, have taken steps to promote a tobacco-based nutritional supplement, called Anatabloc, made by Williams’s company.

The first lady touted Anatabloc at an investors’ conference in Florida and hosted a product launch that the governor also attended about the time that Williams picked up the $15,000 catering tab for the wedding of one of the McDonnells’ daughters.

McDonnell has said the company has received no state contracts or benefits. He has also said his and his wife’s efforts to promote Anatabloc were consistent with what they would do to boost any home-state venture.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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