by Pete Galuszka
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is seeing his daily life and that of his family scrutinized as never before.
The Post reported that Jonnie Williams Sr., head of Star Scientific, gave Mr. McDonnell’s daughtera $15,000 wedding meal for her 2011 nuptials at the Executive Mansion. Other offerings from Mr. Williams included $100,000 in corporate jet rides for Mr. McDonnell, vacation stays at a lakeside vacation home and use of a Land Rover and a Ferrari.
Now come questions from another source: Mr. McDonnell’s former executive chef, who faces felony embezzlement charges. Attorneys for Todd Schneider are seeking information about how the McDonnell family has used food, goods and resources provided by the state.
The inquiries involve whether a McDonnell daughter used resources when she allegedly stayed for several months at Camp Pendelton, a state-owned reserve used by governors at the Virginia Beach oceanfront. Mr. McDonnell’s twin daughters may have stocked up on energy drinks for college at state expense. Another relative may have taken alcoholic beverages to Camp Pendleton. There’s some other issue regarding whether first lady Maureen McDonnell gave away pots and pans from the state kitchen.
This is all rather petty stuff, to be sure. But coming after the Star Scientific case and other allegations of gifts, it really does make Mr. McDonnell look bad, especially after his triumph of finally getting a transportation plan through the General Assembly. This should be a time from Mr. McDonnell to bask in his final months as governor.
The real problem is the state itself. The Old Dominion has for years held a conceit that its politicians were too gentlemanly or ladylike to lower themselves to graft. That sort of thing just isn’t done. Thus, Virginia has some of the weakest government accountability laws in the country.
Virginia, for instance, was one of eight states to receive an “F” rating in a recent survey by the State Integrity Investigation Project. Its 47th-out-of-50 state ranking was based on awful scores in public access to information, executive and judicial accountability and budgetary, lobbying and ethics enforcement.
It is one of four states that have no limits on contributions, even from corporations.It allows unlimited gifts as long as gifts of $50 or more are disclosed annually. (Mr. McDonnell didn’t initially disclose the wedding meal, saying it was for his daughter).
Virginia is also one of nine states without an ethics commission. The State Corporation Commission, which oversees business and sets electricity rates, is immune from the Freedom of Information Act.
True, there hasn’t been a scandal in Virginia on the level of, say, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, now serving 14 years in prison for graft. But Virginians can’t just assume their public officials come automatically with halos.