April 30, 2013
The FBI is investigating Virginia's governor. Investigators are trying to determine if Governor Bob McDonnell gave any unfair favors to one of his biggest campaign contributors in exchange for personal gifts.
During a radio show, the governor claimed there was nothing unusual about his relationship with the supplement company Star Scientific or its CEO Jonnie Williams, who he says is a personal friend. McDonnell says he has never given the company special treatment.
"There have been no economic development incentives or grants or anything else that have gone out through our economic development partnership to Star Scientific or Mr. Williams," McDonnell said.
But Democrats like Delegate David Toscano see something unusual in the gifts the company has given the governor, including $15,000 for McDonnell's daughter's wedding. McDonnell did not report that gift in his disclosure documents. He says state law does not require him to disclose gifts to family members.
"At the very least we know that it is a pretty cozy relationship," said Toscano. "Not one that we would typically see in the governor's mansion. I think any time the FBI is involved, it's very troubling."
McDonnell admitted on Wednesday that he participated in an event for Star Scientific two years ago. He says the company was announcing grants for a couple of Virginia universities. McDonnell says it's the same kind of thing he has done for hundreds of other companies.
"I have promoted multiple Virginia companies all over the country," said McDonnell.
Political experts say McDonnell may want to start backing away from his ties to Star Scientific, if he has his eyes on 2016.
"If he has future political ambitions," said Geoffrey Skelley at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, "then I think it would be wise to move away from it a bit, or to say at least 'mea culpa. I've screwed up.'"
Toscano says it will all depend on what the FBI finds. But at least this incident should prompt lawmakers to reconsider how they report gifts.
"Transparency cures all ills," said Toscano. "There might be some reasonable restrictions on the amount and the type of gift."
Talhia Tuck, the Vice President of Communications at Star Scientific released a statement saying:
"Our company neither sought nor received any special benefits from any public official and was glad to be part of any effort to promote business and create jobs in the Commonwealth of Virginia."
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