July 10, 2013

“IN THESE TOUGH budget times, everybody’s got to contribute, and I intend to do our part,” Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said on the eve of his inauguration in 2010, explaining why he and his cabinet would take small pay cuts. A year later, Mr. McDonnell bragged that he had eliminated projected deficits in Virginia “by cutting spending.” And last year, touting his “fiscal prudence and conservative budgeting,” Mr. McDonnell piously hoped that Virginia’s example “would be a model for Washington.”

Yet as Mr. McDonnell was touting the virtues of public-sector austerity, his personal life was a counter-example of profligacy, irresponsibility and entitlement.

As we now know from the reporting of The Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman, Mr. McDonnell and his family accepted upward of $200,000 in cash handouts, extravagant gifts and so-called loans — on generous terms unavailable to other mortals — from a Virginia businessman who sought the governor’s imprimatur and favorable treatment from the state for his company.

Much of it went unreported on the disclosure forms that Mr. McDonnell filed annually with the state, thanks to lawyerly maneuvering, definitional hair-splitting and slippery accounting.

Mr. McDonnell’s head-spinning hypocrisy has stained his reputation and shredded the bonds of trust that any governor must maintain with the public if he wishes to be effective and credible. It’s time for him to stop dodging hard questions and hiding behind legal niceties; it’s time for Mr. McDonnell to level with Virginians about what has become the state’s most toxic scandal in years.

We’ve repeatedly called on him to come clean about the scope and details of his relationship with Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the nutritional supplement manufacturer who plied Mr. McDonnell and his family — particularly his wife, Maureen — with “gifts,” “loans” and cash. Now it is apparent why he has not done so: The amounts were simply too great, and therefore too embarrassing.

Federal and state investigators are continuing to examine the McDonnell-Williams nexus for evidence of illegality, and a grand jury is hearing evidence. But the test of Mr. McDonnell’s ethical judgment and common sense is not whether he ends up facing criminal charges. The fact is, his conduct was egregious, and he owes a full accounting to the public for whom he works.

State lawmakers, most of whom have assumed a posture of stunned silence, also need to speak up. Do they not realize that Mr. McDonnell, by his actions, is rapidly recasting the state’s image for clean government?

While it is not unheard of for governors to be on the receiving end of freebies and gifts from those seeking official favor, in Mr. McDonnell’s case the goodies were over the top — not least because they included cash. In the face of what was clearly a pattern of improper conduct and systematic disclosure-dodging, it is inadequate to say, as Mr. McDonnell has, that he has hewn to the letter of the law.

The governor may hope to continue stonewalling and ride out this scandal. If so, he is piling a fresh miscalculation atop older misjudgments.