Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell just made life harder for state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican hoping to replace him. McDonnell, under fire for months over his acceptance of loans and gifts from a key campaign fundraiser, repaid over $100,000 and apologized. That move could shift the focus of that scandal back onto Cuccinelli, who received gifts from the same donor — bad news for a campaign already trying to deal with downplaying the candidate's past push to outlaw certain sexual acts and, as reported on Tuesday, adultery.
The repayment by McDonnell doesn't end questions over his acceptance of gifts. Since April, The Washington Post has outlined those gifts in a slow trickle — use of a private jet, covering the catering at McDonnell's daughter's wedding, a shopping spree for McDonnell's wife. When the Post reported on cash loans from the donor, Jonnie Williams of nutritional supplement maker Star Scientific — $70,000 to a corporation co-owned by McDonnell and $50,000 to his wife — it seemed possible that McDonnell might be forced to resign. During a debate this weekend, both Cuccinelli and his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, suggested McDonnell consider resigning.
"I want you to know that I broke no laws and that I am committed to regaining your sacred trust and confidence," McDonnell said while announcing the repayment Tuesday morning, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He continued:
I hope today’s action is another step toward that end. Virginia has never been stronger and I plan to focus on creating even more jobs and facilitating greater opportunity during the last five months of my term as your governor.
The total repayment, with interest: $124,115.17.
Earlier this month, a state prosecutor found that Cuccinelli had also not violated the law when he failed to disclose ownership of stock in Star Scientific and that he hadn't reported over $4,000 of the $17,000 in gifts he'd received from Williams. In part, that's thanks to Virginia's notoriously lax ethics laws.
Cuccinelli's recent resurrection of advocacy for the state's long-standing law banning sodomy was generally seen as an attempt to turn attention away from the gift scandal and toward his track record as attorney general. That push may have backfired somewhat, as he earned national attention for trying to maintain a law that bans oral and anal sex between any two people — including consenting adults. An appeals court, citing the Supreme Court's 2003 decision throwing out anti-sodomy laws, declared the Virginia law void. Warning that letting that decision go unchallenged opens the door to sexual predators, Cuccinelli wants Virginia's support in challenging it.
But that isn't Cuccinelli's only attempt to legislate sexual behavior. According to a report at Politico, he defended a law banning adultery as recently as five years ago.
Speaking to Richmond’s Style Weekly magazine back in 2008, Cuccinelli defended laws criminalizing extramarital sex, saying that such restrictions “ought to stay on the books.”
“Frankly it wouldn’t hurt to enforce them more,” Cuccinelli is quoted saying. The magazine paraphrased Cuccinelli drawing a comparison to “perjury inasmuch as the occasional prosecution or two would get people thinking twice.”
Earlier this month, Cuccinelli proposed another new law: one that would tighten Virginia's rules for elected officials to receive gifts. From the National Journal:
The attorney general has called for gift-law reform all the same. Following new Washington Post revelations, Cuccinelli on Wednesday said the growing scandal "emphasizes the need for clearer and faster disclosures that cover the whole family, as well as a cap on the size and types of gifts." Cuccinelli has proposed a 10-day reporting window for gifts valued over $500, and disclosure reporting for gifts given to immediate family members.
Cuccinelli has not yet proposed an actual number for a cap on the value of gifts.
Given the tumult surrounding McDonnell and Cuccinelli, such an increase is probably a good idea. After all, the occasional prosecution or two would get people thinking twice.
Photo: Cuccinelli makes a point during the Saturday debate. (AP)