RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday blamed a blunt fundraising appeal on “eager beavers” on the staff of his political action committee, saying he was unaware that the PAC was offering access to the governor, the first lady and “policy experts” in exchange for donations.
“They put out a piece of paper that I had never seen or approved,” McAuliffe (D) said. “So we’re not going to do what they said.”
McAuliffe made the comments in an interview on WRVA radio’s “Ask the Governor” program. Coming nine days after Common Good VA’s solicitation became public, the governor’s remarks were the first suggestion that he had not been onboard with the effort.
Until then, his staff had suggested there was nothing unusual about the solicitation. But on Thursday, an adviser to the PAC called it a “mistake.”
“The PAC is a new entity and the document was sent without approval from the Governor,” Michael Halle, adviser to the committee, said in an e-mail. “Common Good PAC will continue to raise money but not in accordance with the document that was previously reported on. The PAC has revised its internal processes to ensure this type of mistake does not occur again.”
Recent Virginia governors have all formed PACs to support like-minded candidates. And politicians on both sides of the aisle routinely rub elbows with donors at VIP receptions open only to those willing to pay a premium.
But critics said Common Good VA stood out because it was selling access not only to special events where the governor would mingle with donors but also to a package of intimate sit-downs with the governor, private dinners with him and the first lady and monthly meetings with “policy experts.” Prices ranged from $10,000 to $100,000, depending on how much face time the donor wanted.
Halle said the experts would not be Cabinet members or other administration officials, but that did little to quiet the controversy.
McAuliffe’s first big donation to the PAC intensified the criticism. Mark Weiner, a longtime Democratic donor and friend of the governor’s, gave $10,000, and he had played a role in connecting McAuliffe to a controversial investment that allowed him to profit from the death of a terminally ill stranger.
The PAC’s solicitation came at a time of heightened sensitivity to ethics issues in Richmond. Former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, face federal public-corruption charges. Federal prosecutors have accused them of abusing their public positions to promote a business whose chief executive showered their family with $165,000 in gifts and loans. The alleged favors include setting up meetings between the businessman and state officials.
McAuliffe chuckled when WRVA’s Jimmy Barrett brought up the topic of solicitation, which the radio host summed up as, “If you donate X amount of dollars, you get lot of interpersonal time with yourself and your family.”
“My wife loved that,” McAuliffe said.
When Barrett pressed McAuliffe on how such a solicitation could have gone out without his knowledge, the governor said, “You’ve got eager beavers maybe on your staff.”
Although he said the PAC would not operate as advertised, McAuliffe contended that the scheme was normal in politics. “People know candidates, governors got to raise money,” he said. “We’re not doing anything different than anyone else.”