Virginia Governor McDonnell shows off the luxury watch he got as a gift from a businessman he barely knew who expected expected nothing in return…
Governor Bob McDonnell, Virginia’s Republican governor from 2010 to 2014, was charged with using his office to assist businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., who, often with Mrs. McDonnell as a conduit, gave his family wedding receptions, loans, vacations and jewelry worth more than $175,000. I wrote about this scandal here, here, and here. The gifts were legal, thanks to absurdly lenient Virginia ethics laws, just as they were obviously unethical, except perhaps to the clueless McDonnells.
Governor McDonnell arranged meetings for Williams and attended events with him. My favorite part of the criminal trial was when McDonnell claimed that he never dreamed that Williams expected anything in exchange for all of his gifts, and then Williams said that of course he expected some favors in return. The jury found that McDonnell’s actions amounted to corruption and a quid pro quo exchange amounting to bribery. A federal appeals court upheld the conviction.
The Supreme Court’s 8-0 decision this week to vacate the conviction upholds the principle that even if someone has done something obviously bad, there has to be a law against what was done before the act occurred in order to convict him. It’s a rather narrow decision. The Court points out that the law McDonnell was convicted of breaking requires “official acts” to be bought and sold for the law to be breached, but that all McDonnell did was hand out political favors to his “friend”: setting up meetings, communicating his favor, greasing the wheels, essentially. (Much is made of the fact that Williams didn’t benefit very much from any of this, which is just moral luck. It doesn’t make what the governor did any less sleazy.)
Wrote Chief Justice Roberts in his opinion for the unanimous Court: Continue reading →
The only question regarding the multiple count federal corruption indictment of Virginia’s most recent ex-Governor Bob McDonnell (R) and his wife is whether or not the relevant laws are so porous that they can’t be convicted on the evidence. Did they use McDonnell’s high office for personal enrichment? Yes. Did they go to great lengths to disguise the fact? Yes. Did the Governor betray the public trust? Yes. Were the gifts, loans and cash, totaling at least $165,000, received from a dietary supplements company CEO essentially bribes? Of course they were. This is another excellent example of why the admonition that the accused are innocent until proven guilty is often technical rather than true. Based on irrefutable facts, the Virginia’s former First Couple is guilty as hell—of dishonesty, greed, corruption, obstruction of justice, bribery, betrayal of trust, the appearance of impropriety and outrageously unethical conduct. They just may not have broken any of the laws regulating those actions.
The legal case will ultimately rest on whether there was a specific, provable quid pro quo, which is to say, were the gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams Sr., former CEO of Star Scientific, expressly made in exchange for the governor’s assistance in helping his company in the state? Williams, who has made a deal, will testify that this was his understanding; why else would he allow himself to be used as a piggy bank by McDonnell and his wife? But in politics, as we all know, the myth is otherwise. Big companies give lawmakers big campaign contributions out of the goodness of their hearts and patriotic fervor, and it’s just a coincidence that those same lawmakers subsequently support laws that make those same companies millions, or block laws that would get in their way. It’s a coincidence! The Feds are going to have to show that what McDonnell did was significantly more sleazy than what virtually the entire population of Congress does by reflex, and also a clear violation of law. Continue reading →
The Ethics Alarms review of a truly disheartening year in ethics continues with fallen heroes, ficks, fools and follies with Part Two of the 2013 Worst of Ethics awards….and there’s one last section to come. Be afraid..be very afraid:
Fallen Hero of the Year
Edward Snowden, whose claim to civil disobedience was marred by his unwillingness to accept the consequences of his actions, whose pose as a whistle-blower was ruined by the disclosure that he took his job with the intention of exposing national secrets, and whose status as a freedom-defending patriot lies in ruins as he seeks harbor with not only America’s enemy, but a human rights-crushing enemy at that. The NSA’s over-reach and mismanagement is a scandal, but Snowden proved that he is no hero.
Unmitigated Gall of The Year
Minnesota divorce lawyer Thomas P. Lowes not only violated the bar’s ethics rules by having sex with his female client…he also billed her his hourly fee for the time they spent having sex , a breach of the legal profession’s rule against “unreasonable fees.” Yes, he was suspended. But for not long enough…
Jumbo Of The Year
(Awarded To The Most Futile And Obvious Lie)
“Now, if you had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law passed.”
2013 Conflicts of Interest of the Year Continue reading →
That’s Rugby on the right…
Periodically, the same contentious argument breaks out on Ethics Alarms after I assert my position that voters should support the candidate who is the most honest and trustworthy–the one with the most ethical character—regardless of his or her policy positions. My argument is bolstered when someone like Anthony Weiner—and fortunately there aren’t many candidates like him— runs for office on the extreme opposite concept, that even demonstrably horrible character and dubious trustworthiness are irrelevant as long as a candidate holds the right policy views. He was just clobbered in his quest for NY mayor, getting just 5% of the vote, every one of them cast by a lunatic, porn star, mental defective or ethics dunce. I doubt that his wife voted for him. Client #9. Eliot Spitzer, also lost in his race for Controller…and he is like Weiner.
My position is shaken when faced with a fiasco like Virginia governor’s race, where a proven huckster, Terry McAuliffe, is carrying the Democratic banner and Ken Cuccinelli is the Republican choice. (I live in Virginia.) That McAuliffe is corrupt to the core, like his pals, the Clintons, there is no doubt. He is pure Machiavelli, and worse, he is gleeful about it, like his pal Bill, but without the charisma. I learned all I needed to about McAuliffe’s character when I learned that he tried to bribe Ralph Nader to drop out of the 2000 Presidential race, but that was hardly the only evidence. Virginia Democrats disgraced themselves by nominating him. I wrote about his public dissembling here and here; I didn’t even go into his dubious financial dealings andthe strange way —well, if you think cronyism is strange— he got rich investing in Global Crossing—as I said, the sliminess of his character has never been in doubt.
Cuccinelli, however, is worse: he’s just unethical in different ways. Continue reading →
Why is this man smiling?
I posted earlier on the blatant violation of basic conflict of interest principles (not to mention de facto bribery) by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R). Following increased criticism and talk of forcing him to resign, McDonnell announced on his weekly radio show (“Ask the Unethical Governor,” or something like that) that he was returning the many gifts and repaying the loans that came to him and members of his family from Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie William.
His comments read like a primer on how to sound like a slippery and dishonest politician, which, it seems clear, he is. Here are some highlights, with my comments in bold: Continue reading →
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, Continue reading →