On Tuesday, federal prosecutors dropped an indictment against former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, for their well-documented financial interactions with Jonnie Williams, former head of Star Scientific — preferred dietary supplement provider to the McDonnell administration — and frequent donor to the McDonnell clan.
You can find the basic facts about the case and the indictment here, but below are some of the scandal’s oddest details that are unlikely to make a reappearance on the campaign trail in 2014 and 2016 — if politicians are paying close attention.
7. Credit cards
The growing scandal in Richmond seems to have started because of Bob and Maureen McDonnell’s growing debt as their gubernatorial inauguration approached. In an e-mail to a top aide, the governor’s wife said, “Bob is screaming about the thousands I’m charging up in credit card debt. We are broke, have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already, and this inaugural is killing us.” They’re not alone, credit cards have made many people do stupid things.
6. Oscar de la Renta
Michelle Obama has never worn an Oscar de la Renta dress while first lady, unlike many, many of her predecessors. She’s gotten a bit of flak for it. She has also never been indicted for buying one either, unlike former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell. Michelle Obama may be on to something, especially since other popular political spouses are on the anti-Oscar de la Renta train too. When in doubt, it is probably best to avoid spending much of your campaign funds on clothes or haircuts.
5. Outsourcing jobs of laid-off lab rats to state employees
Last year’s sequester cuts left the National Institute of Health with hundreds of millions fewer dollars to work with, ever after the 2014 budget was finalized this month. That means about 640 fewer research grants to award annually. Using Virginia government employees as a "as a control group for research studies” — i.e. testers for Star Scientific’s tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory drug — does not seem like a viable alternative, but Jonnie Williams was trying to convince Virginia’s first family that it was a great idea (page 19) while subsidizing their new clothes and free-range chicken. However, the FDA has already done some tests, despite the funding drop, and found that evidence for the efficacy of such drugs is quite slim. Williams has been known to fabricate university endorsements for previous medical investments. Williams stepped down as Star Scientific’s head as the McDonnell scandal ballooned; his unorthodox experiments — like his patented tractor-trailer-sized microwaves — seemed to have vacated the board, too.
4. The political patron
Thanks to the Obama administration’s campaign-finance-rule finessing, it’s going to be a lot harder for donors to funnel money into tax-exempt 501(c)4s. No, the elections after 2014 will increasingly feature campaigns with diversified donor accounts, as organizations will need to spread their resources ever thinner or face the FEC and IRS’s wrath, at least until a new loophole emerges from the ether. That means “super salesman” like Jonnie Williams, hawking wares and seeking campaign promises, won't be rare, but they might not be quite as effective or loud.
Four days ago, NPR reported that texting is on the decline in the United Kingdom. It is having a moment as a way of catching politicians and their staffers breaking bad. After the incriminating messages sent by the Chris Christie administration and Bob McDonnell’s quick text asking for a $20,000 loan from Williams (and let’s not forget the ur-text of the text scandal, courtesy of Anthony Weiner), however, it’s not hard to imagine that the next scandal will be uncovered via chats of the g or snap variety (watch out early adopters).
We're only three weeks into January, and governors are already collectively fighting for the chance to be called the country’s biggest losers. Christie’s staff performed their already mentioned and very convincing smartphone adaptation of HBO’s classic New Jersey drama and left his 2016 polling numbers dropping with only 20-odd months left to go until Election Day. New York governor Andrew Cuomo accused his attorney general of wearing guyliner ...
1. Specifically, Bob McDonnell
... And Bob McDonnell got in very deep debt and let a dissolvable tobacco-health supplement salesman buy him Rolexes. In those early days of pregaming the 2016 election, before the 2012 presidential campaign was finished, much of the Internet had already greenlit Bob McDonnell as the Next Big Thing. Esquire’s executive editor Mark Warren said on Aug. 28, 2012, that “it has become a trope that Virginia's decision to limit any governor to just one term will forever prevent Richmond from making another president. But Bob McDonnell, with his grating ease, just might be the governor who tests that theory.” A Politico article in August 2011 floated the possibility of McDonnell running down the line. (The article also mentions that former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie thought “voters now think of McDonnell when they think of Virginia Republicans,” something he’s probably betting against now that he’d like said voters to elect him — especially since McDonnell’s brand of Republicanism failed to do wonders for Ken Cuccinelli, although having "the personality of a stone," as McDonnell’s former chef and scandal linchpin alleged, may not have helped either.)