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As more and more details emerge about the acceptance of gifts, loans and more by former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen during their fours years in Executive Mansion in Richmond, a picture of a chief executive up to his butt in debts and scrambling to pay bills emerges.
McDonnell and his wife were living far beyond their means and came to office deep in a financial hole.
Maybe what we have learned about the real reasons why the governor and his wife had their hands out for financial assistance from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams shows that candidates for office, like many job applicants, need a review of their credit history before we elect them to office.
Virginians, it turned out, elected a governor so deep in debt that pursuit of the almighty dollar for personal use became far more important than any issues facing the Old Dominion.
Even worse, that pursuit was not to put food on the table or to pay the rent on a governor’s mansion where state taxpayers foot the bill, but for fancy inaugural gowns, Rolex watches and other lavish gifts.
Maureen McDonnell, we’ve learned, was constantly bugging Williams for money to pay for things like Rolexes, wedding expenses for a daughter and fancy clothes.
Which raises the central question of how Virginians managed to elect a governor where money and status meant more than service to the people.
While McDonnell may have had a political agenda that included mundane things like service to the people of Virginia, that agenda — if one in fact existed — was buried underneath the desire to enjoy the trappings of success and power that neither McDonnell or his wife had earned or could enjoy without the questionable financial support of others.
While it can be argued that most politicians are shams who bear little relation to reality, the image that the McDonnells projected were, in most ways, created within their own grandiose plans and designed to use the public to enrich themselves.
The McDonnells were allowed to get away with this for too long because of Virginia’s lax laws on public disclosure and receipt of gifts by public officials.
The Lynchburg News & Advance put the McDonnell affair in perspective in an editorial last month:
Virginia has rather arrogantly seen its politicians — we prefer to call them “public servants” — as above the money-grubbing and begging so common in “lesser” states such as North Carolina or New Jersey. Gentleman (and, more recently, ladies) just don’t behave in such a common manner.
Well, now we sadly know differently. Given the chance, along with some of the weakest ethics and public disclosure laws in the nation, Virginia politicians are no different than any other state’s.
And the paper’s view of McDonnell is even more pointed:
Apologies for unethical, if perhaps not illegal, behavior ring a bit hollow when they’re dragged out of anyone, much less a governor, with the threat of a federal corruption probe hanging over his head. So pardon us, Gov. McDonnell, if we view your umpteenth apology with a tad bit of cynicism, especially as the apologies started to flow only as a federal indictment appeared more a possibility.
The largesse of former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr. to the commonwealth’s First Family is sickening in its detail: Rolex watches, $15,000 shopping trips to swanky New York City boutiques, loans, paying for wedding receptions … . The list just goes on and on.
Yes, Bob McDonnell and his wife are gone from public office.
But the lax laws that allowed them to get away with so much for so long are still on the books.
(PUBLIC DISCLOSURE NOTICE: Doug Thompson, the author of this article, is a contract reporter and photographer for BHMedia, the company that owns several Virginia newspapers, including the Lynchburg News & Advance.)