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Despite Ken Cuccinelli’s Claims, Records Show Deep Involvement In Bob McDonnell Ethics Controversy

By Josh Israel on July 10, 2013 at 12:48 pm

"Despite Ken Cuccinelli’s Claims, Records Show Deep Involvement In Bob McDonnell Ethics Controversy"

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Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II

Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R-VA) (Credit: AP Photo/Bob Brown, Pool)

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R-VA) company and family may have received an additional $120,000 from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr. beyond the tens of thousands in gifts previously reported — payments which are already the subject of both federal and state investigations. McDonnell’s endorsed would-be successor, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) denied any involvement in the controversy on Monday, but his connections to Williams and Star Scientific run broad and deep.

Star Scientific Inc. is a controversial Virginia-based company that has moved from tobacco to dietary supplement manufacturing. As Williams, the company’s CEO since 1999, gave gifts and campaign cash to McDonnell, the governor and his wife helped to promote the company’s scientifically-unproven supplements.

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.

Cuccinelli also initially failed to fully disclose the gifts he received from Williams — omissions he called “inadvertent.” Williams provided the attorney general with free lodging at his homes, $6,711 worth of supplements, transportation to New York City and Kentucky, and an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner. All totaled, Cuccinelli reported accepting at least $18,893 in gifts from Williams between 2009 and 2012.

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 has 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.

It is unclear why Cuccinelli would invest so heavily in a struggling company. But his decision to put so much of his money into a tobacco company, along with his record opposing Obamacare, public smoking bans, HIV/AIDS and sex education, and birth control, renders dubious his campaign promise to empower families “to make the best possible health care decisions.”

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