Since April of this year, Virginians have been reading about “GiftGate” involving Republican Governor Bob McDonnell accepting gifts from Star Scientific’s Jonnie R. Williams Sr. They were never reported because the governor purportedly believed they were wedding gifts for his daughter Cailin.
Unfortunately this entire episode is making Virginia look ridiculous. On a personal level, I supported, campaigned, and voted for Gov. McDonnell but in my opinion, GiftGate was perpetuated out of stubborn pride. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there is nothing illegal or wrong about this in the state of Virginia, which is included in 10 other states in our nation that allow officeholders to accept gifts with no cap. The only thing the governor had to do was disclose. As is, our next Gubernatorial campaign will be wrought with controversy.
Virginia’s Republican Lt. Governor Bill Bolling understands this concept completely. “When somebody gives a gift to my wife or a gift to my kids, chances are they’re given a gift because of me”, Bolling said, adding that he reports everything given to his family, “even a piece of pottery or tickets to a race”.
“The recent situation regarding gifts to the governor’s family has brought to light that a technical reading of the law does not include gifts to family members…My view is that they should be reported.”
Technicality being what it is, it was the Governor who signed the reception and catering agreement and placed the initial two installments before informing his daughter and future son-in-law. Later, the sum amount of $15,000 was paid to the same catering company as a gift from Mr. Williams for the wedding in addition to a refund paid out to Mrs. McDonnell– and not to their daughter–after said function. Another twist is that the daughter and her groom reportedly had said they would take on the financial burden of paying for their own reception costs.
According to Virginia law, elected officials can accept gifts of any value, but must disclose those worth more than $50. The rule does not extend to members of the governor’s family.
“It is not illegal to accept gifts,” said Dave Albo (R), the most senior delegate from Northern Virginia. “They are just supposed to be reported.”
The only thing Governor McDonnell had to do was just tell the truth, apologize and say he would disclose everything in the future. However his denials leading up to the disclosure are what bother this Virginia Republican the most. Instead of coming clean from the start, Gov. McDonnell hid from the public and hired a legal team. This led many Virginians to sense a gray cloud over everything else in his personal life and many Independents who voted for him are now questioning his integrity.
Thus, I must agree with our Northern Virginia State Senator Chap Petersen (who is—yikes–a Democrat) in his letter to our Governor:
“I am writing you directly to ask that you come clean on this matter. If you or your family has received gifts of the type alleged, then you should disclose that fully and immediately.”
Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) said, “I am disappointed to see this issue out there. It is absolutely important to maintain integrity in government. But right now no one has proved any wrongdoing, so we just need to let the process [investigation] play out.”
There didn’t need to be an investigation. There was no need for attorneys to get involved nor was there a need to hire a full legal team. This sort of stuff is a distraction that the Governor could have avoided if he had simply done the right thing regarding the ethics of gifting. There are other issues that are vitally important–such as voter ID and the upcoming gubernatorial election. This is a distraction.
Overall, I don’t think Governor McDonnell is a “bad apple” and to be clear, I personally do not want him to resign—and other than Virginia liberals, I doubt anyone else does either. Despite being less conservative than many of us might want, overall I believe he’s done a pretty good job and my grade for you is a strong B+.
Regarding GiftGate, this entire thing ended up being a fire instead of a match that could have been blown out easily and in doing so, Gov. McDonnell basically gave the Democrats something to play with—and that is what bothers me most because bottom line, transparency should be a standard for both parties. Period.