Virginia’s Long Tradition of Expensive Gifts to Governors

It’s bothersome when an elected official accepts an expensive gift from a donor or person who has business before the state or federal government; even when there’s no explicit quid pro quo, there’s the nagging sense that the official is profiting off their office.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, is ending his term with a daily stream of odious stories of accepting gifts from donors – more than $150,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the CEO of a nutritional supplement maker.

However, it’s worth noting that McDonnell is not the first Virginia governor to accept large gifts from donors while in office. He seems to just be the first one to get a lot of grief from the Washington Post day after day about it.

There was McDonnell’s immediate predecessor, Tim Kaine, now one of the state’s two senators:

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, accepted an $18,000 Caribbean vacation last year, putting him atop the list of Virginia elected officials who in 2005 accepted nearly $315,000 in gifts, trips, concert tickets and other gratuities from corporations, interest groups and wealthy persons.

The newly elected governor’s winter getaway on Mustique — a private island playground for rock stars and royalty — was paid for by Albemarle County investor James B. Murray Jr.

Murray had contributed $41,000 to Kaine’s campaigns up to that point, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Kaine reappointed Murray to the Virginia Commission on Higher Education Appointments.

The VPAP site reveals that since 2001, Kaine received $186,899 in gifts and travel – Redskins tickets, cases of wine, etc.

Before Kaine, Virginia’s governor was Mark Warner, now the state’s other senator. Between 2001 and 2004, Warner received $190,362 in gifts and travel – $495 bottles of wine, a $450 “handmade dulcimer,” etc.

Today Terry McAuliffe called on Ken Cuccinelli to give back $18,000 in gifts from Williams. (Compared with Williams’ gifts to McDonnell, perhaps he didn’t like Cuccinelli that much.) We’ll see if McAuliffe finds the gifts to Kaine and Warner bothersome. My guess is, McAuliffe – whose life’s work is ensuring wealthy donors feel sufficiently rewarded by lawmakers – is only bothered by donor gifts to Republican lawmakers. 

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