Gift scandal: Va. GOP gov's candidate donates $18K

AP News
Posted: Sep 10, 2013 6:14 PM
Gift scandal: Va. GOP gov's candidate donates $18K

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Republican nominee for Virginia governor said Tuesday he's given a Richmond charity $18,000, the same value as gifts he accepted from a troubled nutritional supplements maker and its CEO, whose giving to Gov. Bob McDonnell spawned criminal investigations

Ken Cuccinelli, the state's attorney general, announced the donation in an online video sent to supporters. He told The Associated Press he did it to stem lingering fallout over gifts he received from Virginia-based Star Scientific Inc. and its chief executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Cuccinelli is running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a businessman who is close to former President Bill Clinton, in the only competitive gubernatorial race in the country this year.

The Republican does not identify the charity in the video but said in the interview that it is CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, which provides free medical care to the homeless and working poor in the Richmond area. He said he will not be reimbursed.

"This isn't money I had laying around. This had to be accumulated. Like most people, I can't just cut an $18,000 check," Cuccinelli said.

Cuccinelli received $18,000 in gifts from Star Scientific and Williams. He said he concluded after listening to supporters that the gifts were perceived as a problem for his gubernatorial campaign.

"The idea here is to clear the air. I've heard from my own supporters and people around the state on this and from my perspective, we'll be able to ... focus on issues not, maybe not completely, but as much as possible," he said.

The gifts from Williams and or his company date to a 2009 flight to New York. They include some items that Cuccinelli maintained he initially forgot to disclose until he amended four years' worth of required state economic disclosure statements in April. He belatedly disclosed a $3,000 summer vacation last year and a $1,500 catered Thanksgiving feast in 2010, both at the Smith Mountain Lake waterside mansion that Williams recently sold.

The largest single component of the gifts was $6,712 worth of Star Scientific nutritional supplements that the company gave to Cuccinelli in 2011. That same year, company representatives unsuccessfully lobbied senior McDonnell administration officials to include its anti-inflammatory supplement, Anatabloc, in the health benefits plan for all Virginia government employees.

In the video, Cuccinelli tells supporters he sent the donation "to resolve any questions surrounding the matter concerning Star Scientific. I made the decision to send the check because it's the right thing to do, plain and simple."

Cuccinelli has been attacked over the gifts and a separate dispute over gas royalties in southwestern Virginia in more than $850,000 worth of television ads aired by NextGen Climate Action, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, an independent tracker of cash in politics. The political action committee, headed by billionaire Tom Steyer, does not identify its donors. The ad ends accusing Cuccinelli of "helping himself, not us."

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Pressure mounted on Cuccinelli to return the gifts or reimburse Williams for them after McDonnell, a fellow Republican, publicly apologized for more than $145,000 in gifts and loans that Williams gave him and his family, and pledged to return all tangible gifts or repay Williams for them.

Cuccinelli at the time said he couldn't return or reimburse Williams for the gifts because no money ever changed hands. "There are some bells you can't unring," he said then.

The attorney general also once owned more than $10,000 in company stock.

The gifts to McDonnell prompted a federal criminal investigation into whether Williams or his company benefited as a result. A state investigation also continues into whether McDonnell violated the state's porous ethics laws by not publicly reporting the gifts on his annual statements of economic interest. McDonnell defended his decision, saying state law exempts gifts given to public officials' family members from disclosure. No one has been charged.

Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Herring, a Democrat, concluded after a review of the case that Cuccinelli's belated disclosures didn't violate Virginia law.

Democrats were swift to make the most of Cuccinelli's announcement Tuesday. Democratic Party of Virginia spokesman Brian Coy said, "This late, clearly political act can't undo his unethical pattern of putting his own financial interests ahead of Virginia families."