Virginia governor’s rich ‘friend’ lands him in hot water

A lot of people who work in D.C. live in Virginia, so a scandal involving lavish gifts to that state’s governor is an honorary Inside-the-Beltway story. But what’s fascinating is that the largesse shown to Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family by a wealthy businessman doesn’t seem to have gotten him much (if any) favored treatment by the state.

We already knew that Johnnie Williams, the chief executive of dietary supplement manufacturer Star Scientific Inc., had spent $15,000 on catering for the wedding of one of McDonnell’s daughters and had paid $6,500 for a Rolex watch presented to the governor by his wife. But wait! There’s more.

This week, the Washington Post reported that Williams also gave $70,000 to a corporation owned by McDonnell and his sister last year, and a $50,000 check to the governor’s wife, Maureen, in 2011. In all, according to the Post’s tally, Williams gave $145,000 to assist the McDonnell family in 2011 and 2012.

The transactions are being investigated by law enforcement, but McDonnell did report at least some of them, and evidence of an illegal quid pro quo is elusive. (McDonnell and his wife talked up Williams’ business, but, hey, they’d do that for any Virginia company.)


In an outraged editorial, the Post focused not on legality or illegality but on McDonnell’s “egregious” conduct. The editorial almost seemed to be making an aesthetic judgment; it said that “in McDonnell’s case, the goodies were over the top.”

I’m not an expert on Virginia politics, but it doesn’t surprise me at all that a businessman would glom on to a politician without any guarantee of a return on investment. I’ve seen it happen. Like athletes and movie stars, politicians attract groupies -- some of them very rich -- who get a kick out of the reflected glory of palling around with, and doing favors for, the governor or mayor or city council member.

Still, a $6,500 watch?



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