Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) is now in the midst of a full-on corruption scandal. Many political scandals are depressingly predictable, but I have to admit that this one took me by surprise. McDonnell’s political career—as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, then as our attorney general, and now as our governor—had been unblemished by serious controversy. He won relatively strong Off on a Tangent endorsements when he ran for attorney general in 2005, and again when he ran for governor in 2009.
McDonnell has governed largely as I expected him to, charting a center-right course of fiscal responsibility and respect for human rights and civil liberties. I have disagreed with him from time-to-time, particularly when it comes to his strong (but misguided) support for privately-operated toll roads, but overall I have been satisfied with his performance.
Among other promises, then-Attorney General McDonnell promised that, if we made him governor, he would work to eliminate fraud and abuse in our state government and improve transparency. I mentioned these promises in my endorsement. Although he has made some improvements along these lines in how the government bureaucracy of the Commonwealth of Virginia operates, he apparently doesn’t think that they should apply to himself.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is now investigating McDonnell because he and his family allegedly received over $145,000 in gifts—some unreported—from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., an executive at Star Scientific, possibly in return for some unspecified preferential treatment. Some of these gifts were made to Maureen McDonnell, the governor’s wife, which shielded them from the normal reporting of political donations. So much for transparency, eh?
The governor also found himself embroiled in a minor scandal where his college-age children took thousands of dollars worth of taxpayer-provided food from the governor’s mansion. He refunded $2,500 to the state after these allegations came to light.
It is unclear at this time whether Governor McDonnell actually did anything illegal in either of these cases, but, if nothing else, there is certainly the appearance of impropriety. The McDonnell administration was supposed to be transparent and above-board, incorruptible and honest. Even if none of this activity was strictly illegal, it is still disappointing. It is still not what we were supposed to expect from this governor.
I am not going to call for McDonnell’s resignation at this time; that would be premature. I’m going to say the same thing that I said when then-Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY 9th) found himself embroiled in a different kind of scandal: whether he should step down is up to him, based on what he knows and how he thinks it will affect the performance of his duties to his constituents. But I am going to call for a complete, independent investigation. And if that investigation uncovers real evidence of corruption or other illegal activity, then Governor McDonnell should resign . . . or else be impeached and removed from office in accordance with Article IV, Section 17 of the Constitution of Virginia.
I have no patience for political corruption, even when it comes from a politician I have previously supported. McDonnell must explain himself to the public, and cooperate fully with the investigation. If we find that this was all just a big misunderstanding, we can go about our business and McDonnell can continue his journey up the political ladder. If, however, this smoke leads to fire, the public trust will have been breached and McDonnell will end up as just another name on a long, bipartisan list of disgraced politicians.