by DJ Rippert
As the Rolex turns. The McDonnell family corruption trial has Virginians transfixed. People can’t wait to get the latest installment in this soap opera of a trial. Most Virginians wonder at how this could have happened. I wonder at how it could have taken so long for America’s most corrupt state to finally erupt.
Bi-partisan graft. While Virginians gawk at the details of the McDonnell affair there have been plenty of other scandals and “odd dealings” in Virginia. The current governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, went through the election cycle under a shroud of suspicion as federal agencies opened investigations into GreenTech Automotive, a company he co-founded. McAuliffe and Hilary Clinton’s brother were accused of running a “visas for sale” operation as the funding mechanism for this car company. His opponent, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, failed to disclose gifts from the same entrepreneur that has gotten McDonnell into so much trouble. Ultimately, Cuccinelli agreed to donate the value of his suspicious gifts to charity. McDonnell’s predecessor, Democrat Tim Kaine, accepted a vacation on a private island worth an estimated $18,000 as a gift from Virginia telecom investor James B. Murray, Jr. The fact that telecommunications is heavily regulated and taxed at the state level did not concern Gov. Kaine or Virginia state law. The gift was considered legal. When Murray’s appointment expired, Kaine reappointed Murray to the Virginia Commission on Higher Education Appointments. Even centi-millionaire Mark Warner got in on the act. Between 2001 and 2004, Warner received $190,362 in gifts and travel.
Gifts, not just for governors anymore. While governors and would be governors get most of the spotlight there is plenty of largess for the lesser members of our political class. Democratic State Senator Phil Puckett earned a look from the FBI for his conveniently timed resignation from the General Assembly. E-mails that have been made public indicate Virginia Republicans were readying a plum job for Puckett on the notorious Tobacco Commission. All he had to do was resign and effectively block Medicaid expansion. Speaking of the Tobacco Commission, its former head, John Forbes II, is serving a 10-year stint in federal prison for stealing $4 million from the commission. Apparently, Forbes lacked the experience and acumen to parlay his position into a series of valuable gifts instead of just stealing the money. The FBI also investigated a special tax break given to Orion Air pushed by a legislator who ended up working for Orion Air. No “smoking gun” was found and the matter declared “hunky dory” (by Virginia standards anyway).
Odd dealings. Lavish gifts and courtroom drama only heighten the suspicion of the state’s many “odd dealings”. The Route 460 paradox had the state of Virginia shelling out $250 million to contractors for a road that hasn’t had an inch of pavement laid. A private contractor was being paid $20 million per month for a road where the environmental permits had not been received. Our political class in Richmond seems utterly unconcerned about the legitimacy of this quarter of a billion dollar expenditure. Just today the Pilot Online broke the story of a two- sentence paragraph in this year’s budget bill that saved a private bridge owner in Portsmouth $500,000 per year in taxes. “Somebody was trying to bury this,” Portsmouth City Manager John Rowe said. Even as the McDonnell trial monopolizes headlines, the beat goes on in Virginia.
Fair warning. Back in 2012 the State Integrity Investigation gave Virginia an “F” rating for potential corruption and ranked it 47th in terms of corruption risk abatement. The usual crowd of Richmond apologists came out of the woodwork to discount the study. It was potential corruption. We have reporting for gifts and contributions. And, my all-time favorite, the study didn’t understand “the Virginia Way”. Unfortunately, it seems the study fully understood the “Virginia Way.” The Virginia Way allows our politicians to rob, cheat and steal for their benefactors while passing the burden of financing the state onto the simple citizens who lack the means to provide high priced perks to the crooks in Richmond. Is Virginia America’s most corrupt state? That’s hard to say but it sure must be in the top five.