Top 2013 controversies in state executive offices not leading to resignation

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December 31, 2013

By Kristen Mathews

2013 saw state executive officials involved in many controversies. Many of these ended in resignation, but these four incumbents are still serving out their terms.

Georgia Governor

Nathan Deal

Airline Perks

On April 27, 2011, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed legislation giving Delta Air Lines a partial exemption from the fuel sales tax. The exemption was valued at $30 million. Two weeks later, the company gave Deal and his wife Diamond medallion status - a perk worth almost $8,000.[1]

Former governor Sonny Perdue, when he was in office, set a policy "that generally banned state officials from accepting gifts worth more than $25 from anyone with whom they conduct state business."[2] Deal reaffirmed the governor's position and extended the policy when he assumed office. A spokesman for the governor explained the gesture as an effort to promote economic development rather than a personal gift. He emphasized, "any time [the Diamond medallion status] will be used, it will be used for state business."[2]

Maryland Attorney General

Doug Gansler

Photographed at high school party

In October 2013, one month after Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler launched his 2014 campaign for governor, The Baltimore Sun published a photograph featuring the attorney general standing in the midst of a raucous high school party. The photo had been taken in June of that year at a high school graduation celebration, co-hosted and attended by Gansler's son, and found its way into the public domain via Instagram.[3] It captures a scene containing evidence of underage alcohol consumption, with Gansler standing passively among the shirtless partygoers. The Sun's accompanying written report evokes a permissive attitude unbecoming of a top law enforcement official. It reminds readers of the second term AG's pronouncements about wanting to reduce underage drinking, using the photo as a visual aid to reinforce the notion Gansler was neglecting his duties in not shutting down a party where, by his own acknowledgement, "For better or worse, the reality is some kids drink alcohol while they're there."[3] After the story broke, Gansler defended his lack of engagement as appropriate from a parental perspective, considering he and a group of other parents had established rules for the party in advance. Skirting a direct response to claims that his behavior was inappropriate from a law enforcement perspective, Gansler argued that it would have been outside his moral authority to stifle a relatively controlled demonstration of teenage debauchery, as depicted. One teenager who attended the Delaware beach house celebration that night told an interviewer from the Sun, "I don't remember much, but it was one of the best parties I've been to, hands down," simultaneously affirming Gansler's defense of his responsibilities as a parent within the situation and the critics' charges that Gansler actively ignored his responsibilities as an elected legal official.[4]

Before the Sun published the photo, Gansler's candidacy had already suffered a string of embarrassments, mostly courtesy of the Washington Post, which kicked off its Gansler-exposé series in August when it revealed previous comments Gansler had made about the campaign of his opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is the early frontrunner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. "I mean, right now, his campaign slogan is, ‘Vote for me, I want to be the first African American governor of Maryland,’" Gansler told some campaign volunteers, implying Brown was running on gimmick rather than substance.[5] It followed with a number of reports detailing Gansler's questionable handling of state-issued vehicles, including a piece saying he ordered state troopers to violate traffic laws.[6]

Wyoming Superintendent

Cindy Hill

Position stripped of duties

On January 25, 2013, the Wyoming State Legislature passed a bill stripping Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill of most administrative duties. Governor Matt Mead (R) signed it into law on January 29. The superintendent was removed as head of the Department of Education and replaced by Jim Rose, an interim director appointed by the governor. The position of superintendent will remain but be separate from the Department of Education.[7]

After he had finished signing the bill, Superintendent Hill served Governor Mead with a lawsuit arguing the move was unconstitutional as it violates the consent of the people and nullifies their vote.[8] The state Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the case on August 20, 2013.[9]

Virginia Governor

Bob McDonnell

Gifts from Star Scientific

In April 2013, it was reported that the FBI was investigating whether Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell violated any laws by allowing Star Scientific to pay $15,000 for food and flowers at his daughter's 2011 wedding, which was held at the governor's mansion. When asked why he did not report the spending on his finance reports, McDonnell said the donation was a gift to his daughter, and per state law only gifts to officeholders have to be reported.[10]

The investigation of McDonnell is an offshoot of an investigation of securities transactions involving Star Scientific. The company, run by Jonnie R. Williams Sr, produces a dietary supplement called Anatabloc. Williams and Star Scientific have donated over $120,000 to McDonnell and his political action committee, along with other perks including allowing McDonnell to stay at Williams's lake house.[11]

Meanwhile, McDonnell and his wife have promoted Anatabloc and other products made by the company. According to Todd Schneider, former chef to the governor, McDonnell "[promoted] Star Scientific products, including the introduction of Anatabloc (a food supplement) to MCV doctors at a lunch Todd Schneider cooked at the mansion on Aug. 30, 2012."[10] (Schneider, it should be noted, is currently facing charges of stealing food from the governor's mansion.) Additionally, McDonnell's wife Maureen spoke at a seminar for scientists and investors in Florida three days before her daughter's wedding, where she spoke in support of Anatabloc.[10]

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), who also has ties to Williams, appointed the Richmond commonwealth's attorney, Mike Herring, to act as special prosecutor in the case.[12]

In late June 2013, it came out that Williams purchased a $6,500 Rolex watch for McDonnell, which the governor did not disclose in his financial filings. Williams presented the gift in August 2011, just weeks after meeting with a state health official to discuss his company's products. The meeting was arranged by McDonnell's wife, Maureen, who suggested Williams purchase a Rolex for her to give to her husband.[13]

Shortly thereafter, sources speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the investigations, said that in 2012, Williams gave $70,000 to a corporation owned by McDonnell and his sister. That money went from a trust owned by Williams to MoBo Real Estate Parters, formed in 2005, and was not disclosed by McDonnell as a gift or loan. Additionally, Williams gave a $50,000 check to the governor's wife in 2011.[14]

In late August, more gifts from Williams to McDonnell became public, including winning a fashion tour of New York at a charity auction for the governor's wife, paying to fly the governor and his wife to Cape Cod over Labor Day weekend in 2012, and allowing McDonnell, his sons and staff to play golf and purchase gear at exclusive Richmond area country clubs. Those close to the investigation said McDonnell was aware of these, even though the governor's lawyers have argued he should not be charged with any crimes partially because he was unaware of these gifts.[15]

Calls for resignation

On July 2, 2013, state Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D) called for McDonnell to explain and return the gifts in question or resign. In a letter to the governor, Petersen said, “In return, it appears you allowed this person to use the Governor’s Mansion and the Governor’s Office for the purpose of giving unique credibility to his company. That is unacceptable.” In response, McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin called the letter "blatantly political" and "not unexpected."[16]

Sen. Barbara Favola (D) went further on July 10, demanding McDonnell's resignation. “I don’t see the purpose of the governor continuing in office when the trust between his office and Virginians has been so eroded. When you’ve broken that ethical bond, I don’t know to what purpose he can really execute the activities of his office effectively at this point,” she stated.[17]

Del. Scott Surovell (D) added his voice on July 14, saying “The legislative branch has a sworn independent responsibility to address corruption and malfeasance when we see them independent of criminal investigations...If he has not resigned by the end of this week, then other measures should be on the table.”[18]

On August 20, McDonnell made it clear that he would not leave office early, stating, "I’m going to be governor of Virginia for another ­4½ months."[19]

Apologizes, repays loans

On July 23, 2013, McDonnell announced he repaid more than $120,000 in loans to Williams, offering an apology via Twitter: “I am deeply sorry for the embarrassment certain members of my family and I brought upon my beloved Virginia and her citizens. I want you to know that I broke no laws and that I am committed to regaining your sacred trust and confidence. I hope today’s action is another step toward that end.” The repayment was for the $50,000 loan made to McDonnell’s wife, and the $70,000 loan to the company McDonnell co-owns.[20]

McDonnell’s statement did not address any of the gifts from Williams and, while seen as a positive first step, did not silence his critics who continue to argue he should step down.

See also

References

  1. News Channel 9.com, "Nathan Deal gets perks after tax breaks," June 19, 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 Business Week.com, "Delta gives Ga. gov perks after getting tax break," June 19, 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Baltimore Sun, "Gansler says breaking up teen party was not his job," October 23, 2013
  4. National Journal, "Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Pictured at Wild High School Party," October 24, 2013
  5. The Washington Post, "Gansler said rival Brown relying on race in Maryland governor’s contest," August 12, 2013
  6. The Washington Post, "Attorney General Gansler depicted as reckless passenger by Md. troopers who drove him," October 12, 2013
  7. Billings Gazette, "Legislature passes Wyoming school chief duties bill," January 25, 2013
  8. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named signed
  9. K2 Radio, "Hill Lawsuit Argues Education Powers," July 23, 2013
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 The Atlantic Wire, "The Governor, His Wife, Their Cook, and the FBI," April 30, 2013
  11. Washington Post, "FBI looking into relationship between McDonnells, donor," April 29, 2013
  12. The New York Times, "Special Prosecutor Appointed in Investigation of Virginia Governor," May 22, 2013
  13. Washington Post, "Donor bought Rolex watch for Virginia Gov. McDonnell, people familiar with gift say," June 25, 2013
  14. Washington Post, "McDonnell’s corporation, wife allegedly benefited from $120,000 more from donor," July 9, 2013
  15. Washington Post, "Gov. McDonnell described as aware of gifts from Virginia businessman," August 31, 2013
  16. Washington Post, "Virginia Democrat to Gov. McDonnell: Explain gifts or resign," July 2, 2013
  17. Washington Post, "State Sen. Barbara Favola calls for Gov. McDonnell’s resignation," July 10, 2013
  18. Washington Post, "Del. Scott Surovell says Virginia Gov. McDonnell should resign, or be forced out," July 14, 2013
  19. Washington Post, "McDonnell says he will serve out term as Virginia governor," August 20, 2013
  20. ‘’Washington Post,’’ “McDonnell apologizes, repays loans,” July 23, 2013