The McDonnell GiftGate scandal and issues about the disclosure of money and gifts to Virginia politicians has only become more intense.
The Washington Post reported today that Maureen McDonnell, wife of the governor, accepted $36,000 as a paid consultant last year while her husband listed her work as that of a trustee of a philanthropic foundation run by a coal baron.
The Post says that, in fact, Ms. McDonnell was paid as a consultant by the United Company, a coal and real estate firm in Bristol, rather than for the Frances G. and James W. McGlothlin Foundation as her husband reported in state filings.
In doing so, the Post says, “the governor never had to say on his disclosure form how much she was paid.” Spouses of elected officials must report incomes more than $10,000.
First off, the news ratchets up the tension on McDonnell, who did not disclose payments of $15,000 for a wedding meal for his daughter from another firm, Star Scientific, among other benefits. The FBI and the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney are investigating.
The new twist includes a new player, James W. McGlothlin, a conservative multi-millionaire who is one of the state’s and Richmond’s biggest philanthropists. A Southwest Virginia native, McGlothlin made lots of money mining and selling metallurgical coal of which his birthplace and surrounding areas have rich reserves.
He started United Coal Co. in the 1970s and branched into other ventures such as golf courses and pharmaceuticals. He sold out for a while and then came back to run the firm which he sold in 2009 for about $1 billion to Ukraine’s Metinvest firm, owned by Rinat Akhmetov, said to be one of Europe’s richest individuals.
Along the way, McGlothlin racked up considerable wealth that he has given away. Perhaps his single largest donation was $100 million for an architecturally significant wing at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond along with a $70 million trove of 19th and 20th century artwork, including pieces by Mary Casatt and Winslow Homer. Through his foundation, McGlothlin has supported other good works, such as funding research at the medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University.
A staunch conservative, McGlothlin was a major player in a controversy involving the 2005 firing of Gene Nichol, the president of the College of William & Mary who had been deemed too liberal by critics. Nichol was blamed for changing how a Christian cross was displayed at a chapel and for supporting an art show by sex industry workers. McGlothlin, an alumnus of both W&M undergrad and law school, supposedly threatened to withhold a $12 million donation to the school over Nichol.
McGlothlin told the Post that Maureen McDonnell was paid by his firm and not his foundation although McDonnell reported on state disclosure filings also put out by the Virginia Public Access Project that she had been a “trustee” of the McGlothlin foundation. Apparently, the state’s First Lady made $36,000 — more than a beginning school teacher makes in a year — by spending a few days talking about philanthropy.
Two other points: Ms. McDonnell also had worked in some capacity for Star scientific boosting its dietary supplement products that got her husband in trouble.
Also, as I noted a few days ago, the non-partisan, non-profit VPAP, where many get their information about political giving in Virginia’s lax system, cannot be relied upon if inaccurate information is put into state disclosure filings made by politicians. VPAP is a service, and a good one, but it has no investigative role to vet the data it uses. It never had that mission and there is no state ethics commission to check into filings. That seems up to the news media and prosecutors who made or may not know if something is amiss.
The latest McDonnell disclosure only shows the weakness of the current system.