"Virginia Governor To Return All Gifts From Tobacco Executive"
CREDIT: AP Photo/Bob Brown, Pool
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) apologized again on Tuesday for embarrassing his state and announced that he and his family will be returning all gifts they received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr. But his endorsed would-be successor, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) has not yet repaid any of the $18,000-plus worth of gifts he received from the same donor.
Last week, McDonnell made his initial apology in a press release, announcing he and his family had repaid the more than $120,000 in loans Williams had made to McDonnell’s businesses. Tuesday, on WTOP radio’s Ask the Governor program, McDonnell announced they will also be returning tens of thousands worth of gifts they had received from him. These included a $6,500 Rolex watch (engraved “71st Governor of Virginia”) and $15,000 to pay for the catering at his daughter’s wedding reception. A federal grand jury and state investigation are looking into whether any of the gifts and loans were improper; McDonnell continues to deny breaking any laws.
But while McDonnell has now twice apologized and moved to return what he and his family received, Cuccinelli has been silent. While the Republican nominee has denied any involvement in the scandal, he also accepted free lodging at his Williams’ homes, $6,711 worth of nutritional supplements, transportation to New York City and Kentucky, and an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner valued at $1,500. All totaled, Cuccinelli reported accepting at least $18,893 in gifts from Williams between 2009 and 2012.
Cuccinelli also initially failed to fully disclose the gifts he received from Williams — omissions he called “inadvertent.”
Though as of 2012, Star Scientific has reported annual losses for a decade, just one Virginia elected official or candidate invested upwards of $10,000 in the company: Cuccinelli. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Star Scientific is the only significant holding he has reported since his first filing in 2003. Cuccinelli, whose position makes him the Commonwealth of Virginia’s lawyer, did not follow state disclosure law and disclose this investment in a timely manner. After the controversy became public, he sold off the stock.
Star Scientific also may have benefited from having Cuccinelli as attorney general. In 2010, Cuccinelli issued an official advisory opinion stating that the use of electronic cigarettes does not qualify as smoking and is thus permissible in public places. Cuccinelli has denied any conflict of interest, though the ruling was a boon to companies in the e-cig business — including Star Scientific. Additionally, his office essentially ignored a court case brought by the company in July 2011 — though he claims that was “nothing unusual.” Star Scientific is challenging a $1.7 million tax bill, which remains unpaid while the case languishes. He has reportedly refused to say whether he ever discussed the case with Williams. Though his office initially denied any conflict of interest, he later recused himself.
Cuccinelli confirmed Wednesday that he has no plans to repay the thousands in gifts he received from Williams. He told reporters he was glad to see Gov. McDonnell returning his own gifts, but that he would not follow suit as, “There are some bells you can’t unring.”