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McDonnell viewed $15K check as gift to daughter

By Bob Lewis -- Associated Press

RICHMOND -- Gov. Bob McDonnell says he viewed a $15,000 check from a political backer to pay for catering at his daughter's wedding to be a gift to his daughter, not to him, and felt no need under the law to report it.

On WRVA radio in Richmond on Thursday, he said some sort of ethics and disclosure reform to Virginia's weak laws is likely, but he hasn't determined which approach he favors. It was his second radio show in three days.

"I certainly understand the concerns that have been raised," he said during the roughly five minutes of the hourlong call-in show that were spent on the controversy over the gift and continuing federal and state criminal investigations related to it.

He said he had filled out statements of economic interest required of all Virginia elected officials and candidates for 22 years "and have always diligently tried to do what I think is right under the current law."

His words were carefully chosen because existing law requires only that gifts made directly to officeholders be reported on the forms, not those made to family members.

"As I said, my daughter indicated she wanted to pay for her wedding and I looked at the gift as a gift to my daughter," he said, referring to daughter Cailin, who wed in June 2011 and held her reception at the Executive Mansion. "Now, in retrospect, I certainly had the capacity to pay for my daughter's wedding and that was not the issue."

The event was catered by the chef at the executive mansion at the time, Todd Schneider.

Disclosure of the gift from Jonnie Williams, chief executive of the troubled nutritional supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., came about during an investigation into alleged improprieties in the Executive Mansion's kitchen operations.

Williams' check was turned over to Schneider as payment for his services. But Schneider was fired in March 2012 after a Virginia State Police probe of the mansion kitchen operations began. In March, Schneider was indicted on four felony counts of stealing state-purchased goods from the mansion. He was due in Richmond Circuit Court on Thursday for a hearing on a motion to dismiss the charges against him.

Schneider said in defense motions filed in his case in Richmond Circuit Court during the past week that he told federal and state investigators a year ago he was told to take food and other items from the mansion as compensation for personal services. He also alleged in the motions that members of McDonnell's family took state-purchased food, liquor, bottled water and energy drinks from the Mansion kitchen for their private use.

The FBI is examining the relationship McDonnell and his family have with Star Scientific and Williams.

Asked by show host Jimmy Barrett if there should be limits on gifts elected leaders are allowed to take in Virginia, McDonnell said there's a need to consider reforms but was noncommittal about a specific approach.

"In light of the concerns that have been raised, I am doing a lot of my own reflection on the law and the reaction in terms of the analysis that there is no (gift-giving) limit on the law, there's only the annual report. The gifts only have to be reported that are given to the officeholder and not to family members and so forth. And so I think it's time to do that analysis," he said.

"Others have made some proposals here recently and next session, and next (General Assembly) session, I certainly think this will probably be an issue, so I'm taking a look at that," said the lame-duck governor whose single, nonrenewable four-year term expires only three days into the 2014 legislative session in January.

McDonnell also reiterated a statement he first made on a radio call-in program Tuesday in Washington: that his administration has never granted economic development incentives to Star Scientific. Nor have there been appointments to state boards or commissions for Williams or other company officials during his term, McDonnell added.

The only state incentives the Glen Allen-based company has received came in 2002, during the administration of Gov. Mark R. Warner.

There is no report of either gifts or political contributions to Warner either from the company or from Williams in a database maintained by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit and nonpartisan tracker of money in Virginia politics.

Online: Virginia Public Access Project: http://www.vpap.org


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