Ken Cuccinelli, in the Clear on Donor Gifts

by Jim Geraghty

The Democrats’ attacks on Virginia attorney general and GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli have focused more on “he’s a dangerous right-wing extremist/he’s a clone of Todd Akin” than on trying to tie Cuccinelli to Governor Bob McDonnell’s donor-gift scandal, but it was likely the opposition would begin beating that drum louder as Election Day approached.

But that avenue of criticism is largely shut down now:

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli solicited and initially neglected to disclose thousands of dollars in gifts from Jonnie Williams Sr. and troubled dietary supplement company Star Scientific, but broke no laws, a prosecutor’s report today says.

The investigation has also found no evidence that Cuccinelli, who also initially failed to disclose his ownership of more than $10,000 in Star Scientific stock, “in any way, promoted supported or assisted Star Scientific while he had a financial interest in the company.”

The findings, released this morning by the office of Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring, are a significant political boost for Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor this year. The attorney general has been dogged by Democrats over his affiliation to Williams and his company — at the center of ongoing state and federal probes involving Gov. Bob McDonnell and the gifts received by his family.

The inquiry by Herring’s office, which also involved the Virginia State Police, found no evidence that Cuccinelli knowingly violated the State and Local Government Conflict of Interest Act.

As I reported last week, the Cuccinelli defense was twofold: that he himself had noticed his failure to initially report the gifts and reported it to state authorities, and that not only had he not done favors for his donors, but his office actually ruled against them the few times they had business before the state.

“I inadvertently didn’t report some things. I’m the one who went back and found them, and I’m the one who held a press conference and said, ‘hey, here are all my items.’ I missed four or five over the course of four years. That’s part of my commitment to transparency. When I make mistakes, I own up to them. Back in the Senate I supported budget transparency and other changes like that. That’s also a part of why I put out eight years of my tax returns, and I think my opponent ought to do that as well.”

(Cuccinelli also asked the Richmond Commonwealth Attorney to conduct an independent review of his disclosures.)

Cuccinelli feels like he’s got a pretty good defense. He doesn’t merely not do special favors for his donors; he’s something of an ingrate, because as attorney general, he’s actually made decisions and fought suits against them.

“Speaking for my office, the only thing [Jonnie R. Williams Sr. has] ever gotten out of my office is opposition to one lawsuit. So there’s been nothing in our office other than that one case where we came out and immediately opposed their position. . . . The perception is met best by facts, and the fact is that the one occasion that something came across the desk of the attorney general’s office responsibility, they were pushed back on, they were fought, without giving an inch.”

This was a 2011 Star Scientific lawsuit, challenging a sales-and-use tax assessment on tobacco-curing barns the company owns in Mecklenburg, Va.

“Hey, look at my biggest donor in the last ten years. What did they get for it? They got an electricity bill that will drag Dominion’s revenue down $700 or $800 million over the next twelve years. That’s what they’ve got for it. Virginians will continue to get that good policy, regardless of who’s supporting me or not.” He appears to be referring to this case, where the “Virginia Supreme Court affirmed a decision of the State Corporation Commission (SCC) regarding Dominion Virginia Power’s recently concluded base rate case. The court rejected the arguments advanced by Dominion, which would have allowed Dominion to earn a higher return on equity from customers than the SCC’s interpretation of Virginia law allows.” Cuccinelli and his office represented Dominion customers in the court fight.

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