Famously, Republican AG candidate Bob McDonnell once claimed that he couldn’t remember if he’d ever had oral sex. In his latest scandal, he can’t even be bothered to muster a denial as ridiculous as that one.
When last we left our intrepid candidate, he was in a good bit of trouble. McDonnell has gotten nearly $1 million in undisclosed campaign contributions — a violation of campaign finance law — and, worse still, it turns out that his former campaign manager isn’t just a pedophile, but is guilty of engaging in precisely the same sort of money laundering that McDonnell is now using to hide his contributions. That tied McDonnell to the DeLay/Abramoff money-laundering scandal, and it got so confusing that I had to draw a map.
That was eight days ago. What’s happened since?
Thursday, October 20
For the AP, Bob Lewis reports on the complaint formally filed with the State Board of Elections over McDonnell’s fundraising:
Virginia Democrats alleged in a State Board of Elections complaint Friday that two Republican organizations broke state campaign finance laws.
One allegation targets the Republican State Leadership Committee on grounds that it is paying to televise campaign ads for Republican attorney general candidate Robert F. McDonnell.
State Democratic leaders believe the RSLC is serving as a passthrough, doing the bidding of a wealthy and perhaps well-known individual donor while keeping his identity secret until after the Nov. 8 election.
Virginia Democratic Chairman C. Richard Cranwell of Vinton and the party’s attorney, Jay B. Myerson, said in the complaint that the RSLC, based in Washington, is attempting “an illegal end run” around Virginia election laws.
The complaint asks the SBE to identify the alleged mystery donor, levy civil penalties on violators and order any illegal contributions returned before the election.
Friday, October 21
In an editorial, the Washington Post brings the hammer down on McDonnell:
Democrats suspect, without offering any proof, that the RSLC is concealing huge “pass-through” donations from Pat Robertson, an ally and political mentor of Mr. McDonnell. Mr. McDonnell is a graduate of the law school of Regent University, a Christian institution founded by Mr. Robertson. The televangelist makes no secret of his support, having given $36,000 directly to the McDonnell campaign, its second-largest donation from an individual. But asked if Mr. Robertson had also given money to the RSLC, his spokesman said he was “in the midst of special programming” this week and unavailable for comment.
Whether or not the RSLC’s donations and disclosures are legal, they are plainly evading the intent of Virginia law, which stresses disclosure of all donors giving more than $100 to campaigns. If the RSLC continues to hide its contributors, will the McDonnell campaign itself ask for their identities and disclose them? That would be in keeping with the law’s spirit and with the goal of an open political process.
“We believe the RSLC has sought to conceal its donors by funneling such funds through an out-of-state organization so that Virginians would not know who was truly behind these advertisements,” Democrats charged in a complaint filed by party Chairman Richard Cranwell and the party’s lawyer, Jay Myerson.
Virginia election laws generally require disclosure of donors’ identities on a regular basis. Democrats allege that the RSLC’s Virginia committee is skirting the law by listing the parent organization as its sole contributor. So-called “527” organizations are required to report their donors only to the Internal Revenue Service.
As a 527 tax-exempt organization, the RSLC will list its contributors of more than $250 since July 1 with the Internal Revenue Service sometime in January, two months after the Nov. 8 election.
Big gambling interests have contributed to the RSLC. So have big tobacco companies and the American Tort Reform Association.
So who is paying for McDonnell’s campaign ads?
Contrary to the clear intent and tradition of Virginia’s campaign laws, the McDonnell campaign will not say other than citing the RSLC, the giant cash washing machine the Republican Party operates on K Street Northwest in Washington.
If [Democratic nominee Creigh] Deeds wanted to craft an attack ad, there are a few things in McDonnell’s record he could target – tons of campaign cash with no original donors named among them. The ad could feature a man wearing a bag over his head passing nearly $1 million to McDonnell.
Sunday, October 23
Waynesboro News-Virginian, the valley daily, weighed in with this delightful editorial, entitled “Follow the law, Taliban Bob:
McDonnell’s campaign says they don’t know who the donors are but suspect they are small donations from individuals mixed with larger corporate aid.
That doesn’t pass the smell test. If McDonnell doesn’t know who the donors are, then he ought to find out and then disclose them immediately.
This is a candidate nicknamed “Taliban Bob” because of his rigid views toward sex.
Regardless of McDonnell’s views toward government regulation of sex, he has passed himself off as a wholesome morals crusader. His crusade should include following Virginia campaign-finance laws.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
The Roanoke Times weighed in with their first editorial on the matter, writing:
The RSLC can argue legal niceties all day long, but as Daniel Lathrop, an official at the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity told the Charlottesville Daily Progress, “The truth is that clearly [the Republican groups] are evading the intent of Virginia’s finance laws whether this is legal or not.”
The loophole exploited by the McDonnell campaign should be closed. The Virginia State Board of Elections has said that the Virginia arm of RSLC should have disclosed an itemized list of contributors, but the SBE has no real enforcement authority.
The Times makes an excellent point about enforcement — more on that in a bit.
Friday, October 28
The Washington Post is pissed. It’s been a week since their first editorial called for McDonnell to ‘fess up, and they’ve heard nothing. So they followed up with a new editorial:
If he wins on Nov. 8, he’ll become Virginia’s foremost law enforcement official. Yet as things stand, he would enter office tainted, complicit in ignoring the state law that insists the public should know where candidates get their cash. If he approaches this law with a wink and a nod, why should he be trusted to enforce the others?
Mr. McDonnell has received more than $1 million from the RSLC, much of it in the past few weeks; among other things, this money has paid for a blitz of TV advertising in Northern Virginia. At the same time, the Virginia Board of Elections said groups such as the RSLC’s Virginia committee should itemize contributions exceeding $100 and report any contributions above $10,000 on the board’s Web site within three days.
The response from the RSLC and Mr. McDonnell? Silence.
Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, a Fairfax Republican who sits on the Senate’s Privileges and Elections Committee, is already planning to introduce legislation next year that would put an end to the RSLC-McDonnell dodge. “We take great pride in being a solid disclosure state,” the senator says. “If you can see who [the money is] coming from then you can make a good decision about who you want to support.”
There’s still time for Mr. McDonnell to honor that principle.
McDonnell’s campaign has stuck to a wise political tactic throughout all of this — they’ve said nothing. “Candidate Says Nothing” doesn’t make for much of a headline, and gives reporters no hook on which to hang their story. But what makes for good tactics also amounts to the worst kind of cowardice. McDonnell and the RSLC have colluded to commit a crime in order to get McDonnell elected to, irony of ironies, the office of attorney general.
The Washington Post and the Roanoke Times both point out that the State Board of Elections has no enforcement authority, and that’s true. It’s my understanding (and I’m out of my league here) that the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney, David Hicks, has to act.
I figure there are only three potential courses of action. The first is for Creigh Deeds to launch an ad campaign against McDonnell on this topic, though that could backfire. The second is for somebody to convince Hicks to take action against McDonnell and the RSLC, since they have refused to follow the SBE’s orders to produce a donor list. The third is for newspapers to decide that they’re not going to take this sitting down and, rather than await a press release on the matter, get to work on both investigative reporting and a new round of editorial attacks in which they raise the specter of what could be the worst-case scenario here.
If McDonnell is going to hide the source of his money, I’m going to feel free to assume the worst-case scenario. If the reality isn’t so bad, he can say so.
So, I figure his money is coming from gambling interests, shepherded to McDonnell by Jack Abramoff. That’s a very conservative accusation. If need be, I’ll work in Chinese organ thieves, a child-sex ring, and prostitution. I mean, if it’s not that bad, McDonnell would say something. Wouldn’t he?