Democrat Terry McAuliffe said Thursday that if he is elected governor, he will sign an executive order imposing a ban on gifts worth more than $100 to Virginia’s governor and first family.
Also Thursday, Gov. Bob McDonnell, on a trade trip in Japan, said there’s a lot he’d like to say about developments in the legal case involving his former chef, but he referred questions to prosecutors.
McAuliffe’s call comes as Democrats continue to press the issue of conflicts surrounding McDonnell and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s relationship with Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.
The proposal is the latest round in the battle over which gubernatorial candidate is more transparent to voters. On April 10, Cuccinelli and McDonnell said they would be open to legislation to tighten requirements on the disclosure of gifts to immediate family members of elected officials.
Williams has given $13,000 in gifts to Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general, and he gave $15,000 to cover catering costs at the June 2011 wedding of McDonnell’s daughter Cailin.
A release from McAuliffe’s campaign said he would work with the General Assembly to expand rules regarding gifts to elected officials, which currently only require the reporting of gifts valued in excess of $50.
“Virginia taxpayers deserve to know that their elected officials are representing the commonwealth first,” McAuliffe said. “I’m committed to enacting these common-sense rules via executive order when I am elected and working with the General Assembly to make them permanent and cover members of the legislature.”
In addition to his executive order, McAuliffe said all gifts valued above $100 a year to the lieutenant governor, attorney general or members of the General Assembly or members of their immediate families should be banned.
McAuliffe also joined lawmakers from both political parties in calling for enhanced reporting requirements for gifts after McDonnell’s explanation that he did not need to disclose the $15,000 gift from Williams for catering at Cailin McDonnell’s wedding because it was a gift to his daughter, and because Williams is a “personal friend.”
The Democratic candidate would require disclosure of any gifts above $500 to “nonresident family from people with interests before the commonwealth.”
Cuccinelli’s campaign responded Thursday, noting the attorney general already had stated he supports stricter gift laws and will provide details on his own plan soon.
And it took a swipe at McAuliffe, saying his past as a master Democratic fundraiser and chairman of the Democratic National Committee was an exercise in exchanging access for donations, most famously using the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House as a perk for donors during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
“Terry McAuliffe’s repackaged policy proposals will not convince anyone familiar with his history as a political dealmaker that he has any credibility on issues related to good government,” said Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix.
She called on McAuliffe to release more details of his tax returns and to answer questions about his business dealings, including his ownership and departure from GreenTech, the Mississippi-based electric car company that he trumpeted as evidence of his job-creation skills but quietly left in December.
On April 10, Nix had said: “With the goal of a completely open and honest government, Cuccinelli supports any effort to close existing loopholes regarding gifts to immediate family members.”
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said April 10 that the governor, who will leave office before legislation could be enacted, “would be open to supporting future changes in Virginia’s disclosure laws to ensure greater transparency, and to require the reporting of gifts to immediate family members.”
After it was revealed Cuccinelli did not disclose a $10,000 stock interest in Star Scientific, the attorney general amended his disclosures, divested his interest in Star, and recused his office from representing the state in a tax suit filed by the company.
On Wednesday, he petitioned the court to recuse his office from prosecuting former Executive Mansion chef Todd Schneider, who was charged with embezzlement stemming from his work at the mansion, including as caterer for the wedding.
Cuccinelli also released eight years of detailed tax returns and called on McAuliffe to do so. Responding to pressure from Republicans, McAuliffe this week released tax summaries covering three years but failed to include any details about the source of his income.
Schneider, the former mansion chef who left after two years in March 2012 left the mansion after two years, was indicted last month on four counts of felony embezzlement stemming from his service as chef for the McDonnells.
In a motion this week, Schneider’s attorneys asked for the state to provide information regarding any instances during which “state goods and resources” were “consumed, provided to, or taken by” McDonnell family members.
The governor, speaking Thursday on a conference call from Japan, was asked about allegations that food and other items were taken from the mansion by McDonnell children.
“There’s a lot that I’d like to say about that ... but there’s a pending criminal case, these are allegations made by a defendant in a criminal case,” he said.
“I believe that the prosecutors in that case will handle that case well, and I’d refer any questions on that to them.”
Schneider’s motion, part of preparation for his trial scheduled for this summer, also seeks documentation of any instances in which he was denied payment after providing catering services, or told to take food from the mansion for his personal company in lieu of payment.
Cuccinelli’s office filed a motion in Richmond Circuit Court asking to recuse itself from prosecuting Schneider.
But Schneider’s lawyers later filed an objection to Cuccinelli’s bid, arguing that the attorney general’s recusal motion fails to contain “any information concerning the basis of the conflict of interest, including when the conflict developed and the nature of that conflict.”