Late in July, when Gov. Bob McDonnell announced he would return more than $150,000 in gifts and loans he’d taken from his former close friend and Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams, the attention turned to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Cuccinelli, who is now running for governor, had accepted gifts from Williams, too — $18,000 in vacations, flights and food supplements. This was while Cuccinelli’s office should have been (but wasn’t) going after Star Scientific for more than $1 million in back taxes.
Back then, Cuccinelli said he wouldn’t return Williams’ gifts, because “there are some bells you can’t unring.”
But yesterday he tried to unring them. Watch:
So he’s giving $18,000 to a Richmond charity, out of his own pocket, “to resolve any questions surrounding the matter concerning Star Scientific.”
But is that actually unringing the bell? It doesn’t seem so. It raises more questions.
Cuccinelli’s balance sheet is still, arguably, $18,000 in the favor of Jonnie Williams and Star Scientific. Why didn’t he send Williams $3,000 for the Cuccinelli family vacation in Williams’ home on Smith Mountain Lake, or $1,500 for the Thanksgiving soiree the family enjoyed there, for which Williams provided a catered dinner? Or refund him the value of those plane rides, or the thousands of dollars in Star Scientific supplements Williams gave him?
Will Cuccinelli take a 2013 tax deduction for the charity donation? That’s conceivable. If he does it would mean he’s getting a hefty discount on the $18,000 he’s paying to unring those bells. He wouldn’t be eligible for a personal tax benefit if he had just paid Williams the value of the CEO’s largesse.
Even more interesting is the pattern that’s emerging with regard to the long delays between the time Cuccinelli engages in questionable behavior and when he finally realizes he needs to try to make it right.
Recall, pretty much the same thing happened three years ago, in May 2010 during the U.S. Navy Vets scandal. Then, just about every other state politician who accepted con man “Bobby Thompson’s” campaign donations of $1,000 – $5,000 disavowed that money almost as soon as they learned it was tainted. They gave those donations to legitimate veterans charities, almost immediately.
But not Cuccinelli. He defended the con man, even after Thompson had disappeared. He waited weeks to announce he would do the same with the $55,500 Thompson had donated to his attorney general’s campaign. (Cuccinelli took more campaign cash from Thompson than any other politician in the United States).
It wasn’t until late in July 2010 — and weeks of pressure and questions — that Cuccinelli announced he too would give Thompson’s donations to real veterans charities. And he did — months after Thompson had been exposed, and months after the law Thompson bought with those sleazy donations had taken effect.
Finally, there’s this: giving that campaign money to veterans charities was the right thing to do, because Thompson had scammed it from Virginians who didn’t realize the U.S. Navy Vets was a phony charity. Arguably, it would have ended up with legitimate veterans charities otherwise.
But giving $18,000 in personal funds to a charity that serves the poor to make amends for those fancy vacations and flights and food supplements Cuccinelli took is something different. It smacks more of atonement, rather than putting everything where it belongs.
All of which is to say, Ken Cuccinelli may say today that taking those gifts was “certainly not unethical.” But he’s sure as heck not acting like he believes that.