The bottom line is that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell accepted what looks to any objective observer like a bribe–several bribes, in fact—and whether he is in technical compliance with his states laws and ethics rules doesn’t change the fact that he is, by definition, corrupt and untrustworthy.
McDonnell, once considered a rising star in the national GOP firmament–and who knows? Considering the competition, he may be still!—has been steadily soiled and diminished by revelations of dubious gifts and payments to his family and a corporation jointly owned by him and his wife by wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr, chief executive of dietary supplement manufacturer Star Scientific Inc. So far, the gifts and payments appear to include,
- A $50,000 check made out to Maureen McDonnell from Williams’ trust.
- A separate check, written the same day, to pay for the catering of the Governor’s daughter Cailin’s wedding.
- Another $50,000 check from his trust to MoBo, the family corporation, which was followed by an additional $20,000 payment to the corporation.
- A $10,000 check as a present to McDonnell’s eldest daughter, Jeanine, intended to help defray costs of her May 2013 wedding.
- Taken all together, Williams appears to have given $145,000 to assist the McDonnell family in 2011 and 2012.
- That amount does not include other undisclosed gifts that Williams gave to the governor’s family, including $15,000 in luxury clothing he bought for Maureen McDonnell, and a $6,500 Rolex watch she asked him to purchase so she could give it to her husband.
Virtually none of these was reported by the Governor, which he justifies this way:
“The rules that I’m following have been rules that have been in place for decades. These have been the disclosure rules of Virginia. I’m following those. To, after the fact, impose some new requirements on an official when you haven’t kept record of other gifts given to family members or things like that obviously wouldn’t be fair.”
This is called “the Compliance Dodge,” a deceitful rationalization that is very high on the Ethics Alarms rationalization list. The translation goes something like this:
“There are loop-holes in the law that let me get the kind of illegal and unethical financial incentives from rich donors that the laws and regulations of the state were designed to prevent. This allows me to obey the letter of the law while raking it in. So there.”
Virginia law requires the disclosure of any gift valued at more than $50, but gifts to family members are exempt, a foolish Virginia practice that most states have moved to cease. Otherwise, a political donor in search of special favors can give the wife of a governor $6,500 so she can buy a Rolex watch to give to her husband. Consistent with Virginia law, Gov. McDonnell didn’t report all of this bounty flowing to him through his wife, corporation and kids. Now, in most states there would be a clear prohibition against governors engaging in conduct that blinds with the “appearance of impropriety,’ like McDonnell’s dealings with Williams, but Virginia has the vaguest, most inaccessible and largely useless ethics regulations for elected officials in the nation. Thus McDonnell may be able to claim, perhaps successfully, that he is an ethical lawmaker, the way Virginia defines the term, which is to say, badly.
Breaking laws and regulations, however, and showing oneself to be untrustworthy, venal, unethical and corrupt are sometimes different things entirely, and McDonnell allowing his family to be bribed by this CEO, as if McDonnell himself derives no benefit from it, is a classic example of the latter. Laws announce what is wrongful conduct, but the conduct is still wrongful whether there is law against it or not. Whether or not the various investigations of these shady financial transactions (McDonnell calls them “loans”) ultimately gets the Governor in legal trouble, the verdict is already in regarding his character.
Source: Washington Post