The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Report: McDonnell gets $6,500 Rolex from donor
RICHMOND—Gov. Bob McDonnell is not commenting on a $6,500 Rolex watch that published reports say he received from a major campaign donor who has lavished his family with thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts he has not disclosed publicly.
When asked on his monthly radio show Thursday about the watch, McDonnell cited ongoing federal and state criminal investigations in declining to comment. The Washington Post reports the watch was purchased by Jonnie Williams, chief executive of nutritional supplement maker Star Scientific Inc.
“What I would say to everybody is that I wish that I could say more about this, but given the reviews that are being done, that’s probably all I can say at this point,” McDonnell said on Richmond’s WRVA radio.
McDonnell called the anonymously sourced reports false and misleading, but didn’t specify what about them he considered to be less than accurate. He noted the six months remaining on the single term Virginia allows him, and implementation of transportation funding reforms that will increases some taxes when they take effect July 1 as well as education reforms.
“I’ve got a lot that I want to do and I’m not going to be distracted by anonymous sources and naysayers,” he said.
He voiced qualified but unspecific support for updating state financial-disclosure laws that public-interest organizations rank among the most porous in the nation. He said perhaps the definitions of the law need to be clarified to eliminate exemptions such as those he invokes in refusing to disclose gifts he and his family received from Williams.
McDonnell first came under scrutiny after reports that Williams had given his daughter, Cailin, a $15,000 check that she used to help pay the catering bill for her Executive Mansion wedding reception in June 2011. McDonnell justified not reporting it on the statement of economic interest filed in January 2012 by noting that state law requires only gifts directly to officeholders to be disclosed.
State law also exempts gifts to public officials from family members or close friends. McDonnell has said he considers Williams as a personal friend, a distinction that could cover his decision not to report the Rolex watch as a gift.
The Post also reported that Williams purchased the watch for first lady Maureen McDonnell’s at her suggestion during a shopping spree in New York so that she could give the watch to her husband.
McDonnell said changing the law to close the family-and-friends loophole in the Virginia’s conflict-of-interests reporting laws could become unrealistic or unmanageable.
“Much is left to the officeholder, I think, to determine under the very little law that is out there—some of it going back to 30-year-old attorney general’s opinions—whether or not something should or should not be disclosed,” McDonnell said.
The governor noted that he has five adult children, including a married 32-year-old Army-veteran daughter who lives in Virginia Beach. “I don’t have much of an idea about what she gets for Christmas or her birthday, so I think that would be [a] tough duty to impose on any officeholder to know what their adult children, for instance, are getting, but there might be some other appropriate limits for children who live in the house,” he said.
He noted that a Richmond prosecutor is reviewing his required economic disclosure forms and said he’ll amend them to disclose unreported gifts if any omissions are deemed improper.
McDonnell expressed frustration over the continuing reports about large, unreported gifts and a parallel investigation into operations of the Executive Mansion kitchen that resulted in theft charges against the mansion’s former chef, Todd Schneider. In defense motions filed in Richmond Circuit Court, Schneider alleges that members of McDonnell’s family took state-purchased items for their personal use from the kitchen, and contends he was told to do likewise as compensation for private catering services he performed.
“I don’t mind it myself but sometimes the attacks on my kids and my wife, in particular,” he said.
He closed his on-air discussion of the issue with an allusion to the Jesus Christ: “Well, there’s only one perfect man. He lived 2,000 years ago.