Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, has made a personal donation of $10,000 to former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell’s legal defense fund, according to records made public Tuesday.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were indicted in January on federal charges of bribery and fraud involving their relationship with a Virginia businessman and campaign donor. The McDonnells are scheduled to face trial in July.
As chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2012, McDonnell endorsed Romney at a critical time — in the run-up to the South Carolina primary — and became one of the nominee’s most visible campaign surrogates. McDonnell and Romney often campaigned together, in the swing state of Virginia and in other states.
Ron Kaufman, a longtime friend of and adviser to Romney, said in an interview Tuesday that Romney made the donation to show his support for an embattled ally.
“Governor McDonnell became a true and trusted friend and ally through the good times and the bad times in the last campaign,” Kaufman said. “He did a great job running the RGA, he did a great job running Virginia, and Mitt has a very special place in his heart for Governor McDonnell. He wanted to help him at a time when he needed help, just as Governor McDonnell would do for Mitt if he needed help.”
Romney’s contribution was one of several disclosed Tuesday, amounting to $150,000 in donations made between Jan. 1 and March 31, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics.
Other large donations to the fund included $50,000 from Richard Baxter Gilliam, a Virginia coal magnate; $15,000 from James Cheng, McDonnell's former secretary of commerce and trade; $10,000 from hotel executive and veteran GOP insider Fred Malek, the RGA’s national finance chairman; and $10,000 from Dario Marquez Jr., chairman of government contractor MVM.
The fund received $5,000 apiece from Robert M. and Joyce Johnson of Johnson Group films; Bobbie Kilberg, president and chief executive of the Northern Virginia Technology Council; Juliette Reidy, a GOP donor from Virginia Beach; and investment banker Robert Sledd, who served as an economic adviser to McDonnell.
McDonnell and his supporters have been raising money for the Restoration Fund to pay his legal fees. The fund raised about $11,400 last year, before the couple was charged, according to a filing with the Internal Revenue Service. That is a tiny fraction of what the McDonnells will need to pay their attorneys.
Several major Romney campaign donors are close to McDonnell and have been helping raise money for the fund. They include Kilberg and Malek.
Asked whether McDonnell personally asked Romney for his support, Kaufman said he did not, although he added that the two speak from time to time. “People around [McDonnell] brought it to Mitt’s attention,” Kaufman said. But, he added, Romney made the donation “on his own volition.”
The McDonnells are accused of soliciting and receiving more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a wealthy Virginia businessman, in exchange for lending the prestige of the governor’s office to Star Scientific, the company Williams led.
They have each pleaded not guilty. In January, McDonnell pledged to “use every resource available” to him to fight the charges. But in a recent fundraising appeal, officials with the Restoration Fund estimated that McDonnell would need $1 million to pay his legal fees.
McDonnell is represented by a team of high-powered lawyers from two pricey D.C. firms, Holland & Knight and Jones Day. Maureen McDonnell has her own team of lawyers from a third firm, Quinn Emanuel.
McDonnell has not announced finding new employment since leaving the governor’s mansion in January. The charges have disrupted what looked to be a bright future in either the public or private sector.
Romney had included McDonnell on a list of possible contenders for the 2012 vice-presidential nomination, and in his final year in office, the Virginia governor was regularly included among those Republicans who might vie for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. A lawyer by training and Virginia’s former attorney general, McDonnell also might have sought lucrative opportunities in law or business. He had also suggested that he might be interested in going into higher education.
The former governor’s attorneys have asked a judge to dismiss the corruption charges pending against him, arguing that McDonnell offered Williams nothing in exchange for his largesse other than political courtesies that were not illegal. McDonnell and his wife helped set up meetings for Williams with state officials and hosted a luncheon at the governor’s mansion to mark the launch of a Star Scientific dietary supplement.
The judge has not ruled on the motion.
Williams stepped down as the chief executive of Star Scientific last year, and the company is in the process of changing its name to Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals.
The McDonnells’ attorneys have been waging an aggressive defense, sparring with prosecutors over many legal issues ahead of the scheduled July 28 trial. They also have asked to sever their trials, although a federal judge recently dealt a blow to that effort when he ruled that they could not keep hidden from prosecutors two declarations they wanted to file in support of their arguments.
The attorneys wrote Monday that they now would not be able to file any declarations — which would have detailed testimony the McDonnells would have given at separate trials — and asked a judge to delay ruling on the motion to sever the cases if he felt inclined to reject it.
Rosalind S. Helderman, Carol D. Leonnig and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.