Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has said his daughter and her husband paid for their own wedding. So a $15,000 check from a major campaign donor to pay for the food at the affair was a gift to the bride and groom and not to him and therefore did not have to be publicly disclosed under the law, the governor says.
But documents obtained by The Washington Post show that McDonnell signed the catering contract, making him financially responsible for the 2011 event. The governor made handwritten notes to the caterer in the margins. In addition, the governor paid nearly $8,000 in deposits for the catering.
When the combination of the governor’s deposit and the gift from the donor resulted in an overpayment to the caterer, the refund check of more than $3,500 went to McDonnell’s wife and not to his daughter, her husband or the donor.
The new documents suggest that the governor was more involved with the financing of the wedding than he has acknowledged.
The question of who was responsible for paying the catering bill is a key one because Virginia law requires that elected officials publicly report gifts of more than $50. But the law does not require the disclosure of gifts to the official’s family members.
McDonnell has cited the statute in explaining why he did not disclose the payment in annual forms he has filed with the state.
Attention to the wedding gift intensified Tuesday as state Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) called for a review of Virginia’s disclosure laws, saying the General Assembly should examine whether elected officials should be required to report gifts to immediate family members.
A spokesman for McDonnell, who is in his final year in office, said he would be “open to supporting future changes” to require disclosure of such gifts.
The gift came from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., chief executive of Star Scientific Inc., a company near Richmond that makes dietary supplements. Three days before the wedding, the governor’s wife, Maureen, flew to Florida to speak about the company’s new product, an anti-inflammatory made from a chemical found in tobacco. Shortly after the wedding, the governor and his wife hosted a luncheon at the Executive Mansion marking the launch of Star’s latest product.
“Mr. Williams gave my daughter a wedding present,” McDonnell (R) told reporters in Richmond on Monday in his first public comments about Williams since The Washington Post detailed the relationship on March 31. The comments came before he was asked about the new documents.
“As you know, under the reporting laws, the gifts that come to me, I report. And I’ve been doing this for 22 years. Gifts that come to me, I regularly and diligently report those. . . . But gifts that come to other family members under the current law are not reportable,” he added.
McDonnell’s comments were in response to a question about whether Williams had provided members of the first family with any other gifts, which the governor declined to answer.
Later, in a written statement, McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell said the governor agreed to a request by his daughter to review the catering contract months before Williams’s gift.
“He signed the contract and made two initial installment payments for her to secure the catering, unbeknownst to his daughter until after the fact,” Caldwell said. “The governor’s daughter and future son-in-law insisted on paying for the costs of the wedding, as the governor and first lady had done for their own wedding.”
He said Cailin McDonnell and her husband, Chris Young, paid other expenses relating to their June 2011 wedding. He cited the rehearsal dinner, flowers, the DJ and honeymoon.
The refund, he said, covered part of McDonnell’s original deposit.
“All of Mr. Williams’s gift was applied to catering and was not part of Mrs. McDonnell’s refund,” he said.
The comments came as McDonnell faces new questions concerning his relationship with Williams and his company, which McDonnell and his wife showcased even as they received other gifts and campaign donations. The company has revealed it is the subject of a federal securities investigation.
McEachin, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said he was confident that the legislature will reexamine gift laws during its session next year.
“Obviously, we’re going to have to define what family looks like. Are we talking extended family? Immediate family?” he said. “I certainly think we should wrestle with it. We’ve seen a good example of why we need to wrestle with it.”
Williams and Star Scientific gave McDonnell and his political action committee more than $120,000 in publicly disclosed political donations and gifts.
On the wedding contract, the client’s name is listed as “Chris & Cailin’s Reception.” “Cailin McDonnell” is listed as the contact for the event, which was held at the governor’s mansion.
But McDonnell signed the document, initialed each page and made some handwritten changes, which he also marked with his initials. For example, next to a line on the contract mentioning a required deposit, McDonnell added in pen: “The deposit will be refunded if an act of God or death occurs which prevents the wedding reception from occurring.”
He also added a note requiring that the catering company be held liable for damages “caused by its own negligence or intentional acts.”
“I have made a few reasonable changes to the contract which I hope you find acceptable,” McDonnell wrote in a handwritten note attached to the document. “Likely find headcount closer to 200-210 and will advise in advance. Thanks Bob McDonnell.”
He added, “PS: Thanks for all your help with Cailin to get this set up.”
The catering company was owned by Todd Schneider, who had trained with Martha Stewart and was hired by the McDonnells to serve as the chief chef of the Executive Mansion in 2010.
Schneider left his job in 2011 amid a Virginia State Police investigation into alleged improprieties in kitchen operations. He was recently charged with four counts of embezzlement. Through an attorney, he declined to comment.
The catering documents indicate that the company offered the McDonnells a significant discount for the event. They were charged $30 a head for food that would generally cost $50 per guest. Discounts were also provided for equipment rentals and staffing costs. The documents also indicate that alcohol was to be supplied by the client.
McDonnell’s spokesman has said the governor does not know whether any other wedding expenses were provided as gifts by guests.
The catering invoice includes a $1,300 floral charge as part of the bill that was paid by Williams’s check.
Also, the owner of a bridal shop in the Hampton Roads area said Tuesday that she provided the bride’s dress free of charge. “It’s because it’s the governor’s daughter,” said Maya Holihan, owner of Maya Couture Bridal Salon. “We really just wanted to do business with them.”
A McDonnell spokesman did not immediately respond to a question about the flowers or dress on Tuesday.
Williams’s check, drawn from the account of the “Starwood Trust,” signed by his assistant and stamped with his Florida address, is dated May 23.
Just over a week later — three days before the wedding — Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida, where she spoke at the gathering of doctors and investors interested in anatabine, the key chemical found in Star Scientific’s supplement Anatabloc.
The reimbursement check to Maureen McDonnell is dated June 6, two days after the wedding.
Three months later, McDonnell allowed the company to hold an event at the governor’s mansion to mark the official launch of Anatabloc.
A picture of a smiling McDonnell holding a packet of Anatabloc had also been featured on the product’s Facebook page until recently.
McDonnell’s spokesman has said the governor and his wife consider Williams and his wife, Celeste, personal friends. They have known each other for about five years.
Jerry Kilgore, Williams’s attorney, has said that the CEO intended the gift for Cailin McDonnell to ensure she had a special wedding day. He has declined to comment further.
Laura Vozzella and Alice Crites contributed to this report.