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When it comes to the current political “scandals”, you are probably by now very well aware with Edward Snowden and the NSA, the IRS, Benghazi and the Associated Press ones. Regardless of your opinions on those stories, those are more than likely the only ones that you have known because you have been inundated with coverage about them since they came to light. I refrain from talking about things such as PRISM because a) I don’t know too much about them other than the basics and b) it doesn’t really fit this blog that focuses on elections.
However there is a scandal that’s been brewing for quite some time now and if you haven’t been paying close attention; there’s hardly a chance that it has even crossed your Newsfeed or Timeline. But this scandal is front page newsworthy and it also has implications for the 2016 presidential race and likely eliminates the possibility of a future candidacy by association.
Shortly after his trouncing of Creigh Deeds in the 2009 Virginia gubernatorial election, Bob McDonnell started earning hype as a potential national candidate and it made sense. McDonnell made easy work of a Democratic opponent in a purple state, would have executive experience as a Governor and seemed to fit all the characteristics of a political player. He was telegenic, conservative without totally scaring everybody and thanks to Virginia not allowing its Governors to hold consecutive terms; would be a free agent starting in the year 2014.
For about the first two years of his term, McDonnell still appeared to be on the fast track to a national ticket, or at least someone who would be able to make a name for himself very quickly. He might’ve been surpassed by fellow rising stars such as Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Scott Walker but he was still considered a potential frontrunner to be the Republican Party’s vice presidential candidate in 2012.
Then he was nearly solely responsible for bringing the words “transvaginal ultrasound” into the political lexicon. It became so important that I even had to go into my phone and computer to make it a word as Autocorrect and Spellcheck did not allow it to be typed.
The moment those words entered the lexicon, you could pretty much scratch off Bob McDonnell as a contender for anything with the word “2012” in it. As surprising as it may sound to any progressive/liberal/Democratic loyalist, the Republican Party probably knew it would be a bad idea to try and court the women vote by bringing a guy who made “transvaginal ultrasounds” (i.e. probing) famous. Just imagine the attack ads for a moment before you try to refute that idea.
Nonetheless if there is one thing that politics has taught us is if you have enough money and can allow enough time to elapse, people tend to have short memories. Remember its only been ten months since Clint Eastwood lectured that chair and thus sparked a new internet meme. A lot happens in politics, even if nothing happens.
But as Bob McDonnell’s term as Governor winds down, you would think it would be wise of him to start at least laying the groundwork for a future run. Maybe he’d try to fight for Ken Cuccinelli to be his successor or make the rounds at all the Iowa and New Hampshire dinners that seem to happen every few months. Well, you can strike off Cuccinelli given the fact that Cuccinelli probed (not transvaginally, mind you) the Governor and they probably aren’t on the best of terms.
You can also scratch off making appearances because well, McDonnell is up to his neck right now with an FBI investigation over his relationship with wealthy donor Jonnie Williams. Let’s take you on a little crash course, a sparknotes version if you will, over what exactly the snafu is in the Governor’s Mansion.
McDonnell and Williams, who is the CEO of Star Scientific, apparently are quite the buddies which there is absolutely nothing wrong with. Williams was an important fundraiser for McDonnell and donated over $28,000 for McDonnell’s 2009 gubernatorial campaign. Again, nothing wrong with that either.
Here’s where it gets a little dicey however. Williams apparently picked up the tab for McDonnell’s daughter’s catering at her wedding which totaled $15,000. What’s wrong with that? Well McDonnell never reported the “gift”, which oddly is perfectly legal under Virginian laws, but McDonnell’s wife Maureen spoke at a conference to promote Star Scientific’s newest product just three days before the wedding. Williams also gave the couple thousands of dollars to vacation and McDonnell even used Williams’s Ferrari to drive back to Richmond.
The FBI is investigating whether Star Scientific benefited from their relationship with the Governor but the latest headline in this interesting affair is that it was found out that the McDonnell family used taxpayers dollars to purchase items such as dog vitamins and deodorant. Also, as the Washington Post mentioned:
The Post asked the state for personal expenses it covered and received 16 sales receipts, most from 2011, the newspaper said. The records showed the McDonnells billed the state less than $600, including $300 they repaid, but continued to let taxpayers foot the bill for such items as vitamins, nasal spray and sleep aids, the Washington Post said.
In other allegations about management of the governor’s mansion, the McDonnell’s former chef Todd Schneider has said in court filings that the family engaged in petty pilfering, such as their five children raiding the kitchen and liquor cabinet.
Wowza. Now, let’s be truthful here; the McDonnell family hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing and it doesn’t appear likely that anything too serious will come out of this. Nonetheless, it does tarnish the image that McDonnell had of being “squeaky clean”.
Now, McDonnell does appear to be relatively popular in his state but when it comes to being a contender in 2016; it does appear that he will be in deep trouble and its highly unlikely he tries to challenge Mark Warner for his Senate seat in 2014. I should also state, like I did earlier in the article, that a year in politics might as well be a lifetime so what is three years?
Still the specter of being ethically flawed is something that can hang over a candidate and a campaign. I’m not stating that McDonnell is John Edwards at all but candidates with potentially shady backroom deals usually don’t find their way to the Oval Office. Also, it’ll be hard for McDonnell to go up against Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul and find any way to market himself.
Maybe, if he does run though, he can be the 2016 version of Tim Pawlenty.