Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli said Friday he would return the gifts given to him by an embattled businessman embroiled in a state scandal and federal investigation, but his family can’t afford it.
After a campaign forum in Northern Virginia, Cuccinelli was asked about the gifts he received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, a well-connected donor whose gifts to Gov. Bob McDonnell have prompted an FBI probe. Cuccinelli said he can’t return to the gifts because he doesn’t have them anymore.
“I’ve returned what I can, which was nothing,” Cuccinelli said. “The governor got cash loans, clothes, a watch. I just didn’t get anything like that. We used empty houses. When I discovered my own mistakes in this area, I brought them forward.”
Cuccinelli received about $18,000 worth of gifts from Williams, including flights, a $1,500 Thanksgiving dinner and $6,700 in nutritional supplements from Star Scientific.
McDonnell and his family received $120,000 in loans from Williams, vacations, trips, clothes and a Rolex watch, among other gifts. Williams, who has donated to McDonnell and his political action committee, also paid for the catering at the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter. McDonnell has repaid the loans, returned as many gifts as he could, and his daughter reimbursed Williams for her wedding.
Cuccinelli said he would write Williams a check matching the value of his gifts, but, “that’s just not something I can do from my family’s perspective.”
His campaign later clarified that while Cuccinelli’s opponent, Terry McAuliffe, is wealthy, the Republican “has spent his life serving Virginians, whether it was helping those suffering from mental illness, fighting sexual assault or in elected office.”
The attorney general makes $150,000 a year, according to a database of state salaries published by the Richmond Times Dispatch. Prior to this year, economic disclosure forms showed Cuccinelli's only investments greater than $10,000 were in Star Scientific, but he sold his holdings in that company at a loss to avoid a conflict of interest. Williams' Star Scientific is involved in a legal dispute in the state over unpaid taxes. Cuccinelli also received a $30,000 advance from his book, released earlier this year.
“As a father of seven children, like most Virginians, he needs to manage a family budget,” said campaign strategist Chris LaCivita, “and his comment simply reflected that reality.”
Cuccinelli has called for a special session of the General Assembly to take up ethics reform in the wake of the ongoing scandal, but McAuliffe and state Republican leaders oppose that.