The Governor, His Wife, Their Cook, and the FBI
The FBI is now investigating whether or not Virginia governor Bob McDonnell violated any laws when he allowed a campaign donor to pay for catering at his daughter's wedding. That is perhaps the least weird part of the story.
The FBI is now investigating whether or not Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell violated any laws when he allowed a campaign donor to pay for catering at his daughter's wedding. That is perhaps the least weird part of the story.
The crux of the issue is whether or not McDonnell violated the law by allowing Star Scientific, a company run by Jonnie Williams, to pick up the $15,000 food and floral tab for Cailin McDonnell's wedding in 2011. The governor explains his failure to report the spending on his finance reports by insisting that the donation was a gift to his daughter. Under Virginia law, only gifts received by officeholders need to be reported. Earlier this month, the Washington Post walked through the evidence for and against that claim. The daughter paid for other parts of the wedding, for example, like the rehearsal dinner and the honeymoon. But McDonnell's guidance is literally written all over the agreement between the caterer and the family, which the governor signed.
“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.”
The company that paid for the catering, Star Scientific, has quite a track record. The Post notes that it was once a tobacco company that then expanded into nutritional supplements, including a product called Anatabloc. In 2002, it received a grant from the state to expand a production facility. When it wasn't able to create the jobs it promised, it was forced to return money to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Yet, as the AP notes, the company maintained close ties to McDonnell.
According to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit tracker of money in Virginia politics, Williams has given McDonnell's political action committee nearly $80,000 and gave his 2009 campaign for governor $28,584. It also shows McDonnell receiving personal gifts totaling $7,382 from the company in 2012.
At the same time, McDonnell was explicit in trying to help the company. The governor's former chef, Todd Schneider, told authorities that McDonnell "[promoted] Star Scientific products, including the introduction of Anatabloc (a food supplement) to MCV doctors at a lunch Todd Schneider cooked at the mansion on Aug. 30, 2012." McDonnell's wife, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader, also helped pitch the company.
Three days before her daughter’s June wedding, Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida, where she spoke at a seminar for scientists and investors interested in anatabine, the key chemical in Anatabloc, according to people who attended the conference.
The governor’s wife told the group that she supported the product and touted the pill, which is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, as a way to lower health-care costs in Virginia, the attendees said.
Schneider, the chef, indicates that he told authorities last year that he suspected an inappropriate relationship between the governor and Star Scientific. But his arguments are colored somewhat by the fact that he faces several felony counts of stealing food from the governor's mansion. Those charges would normally be overseen by the state's attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, the same person responsible for investigating any claims Schneider might have made about Star Scientific. Cuccinelli, in turn, has received a number of gifts from the company, some of which only came to light last week.
Cuccinelli had reported receiving $13,000 in gifts from Williams and Star Scientific on his disclosure forms. On Friday, he amended his economic interest statements for the past four years to reflect an additional $5,000 in gifts from Williams, including a catered $1,500 Thanksgiving dinner in 2010 and a $3,000 summer stay in 2012 at Williams’ lodge at Smith Mountain Lake.
Cuccinelli filed a motion last week to recuse his office from prosecuting Schneider given the apparent conflict.
The FBI has declined to comment on the case, perhaps because they're still diagramming all of its components.
Photo: Bob and Cailin McDonnell after a debate in 2009. (AP)