Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli has given a Richmond charity $18,000, the same value of gifts he accepted from a troubled nutritional supplements maker and its CEO, after months of being haunted by gratuities he received from the same donor whose giving to Gov. Bob McDonnell spawned criminal investigations.
Cuccinelli said in an Associated Press interview that he will announce Tuesday afternoon in a video to his political supporters that he has written a personal check to CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, which serves the poor and working poor in the Richmond area. He said he will not be reimbursed.
"This isn't money I had laying around. This had to be accumulated. Like most people, I can't just cut an $18,000 check,'' Cuccinelli said. "That took a while to do. We've done it. That wasn't an overnight type of occurrence.''
Cuccinelli received $18,000 in gifts from Star Scientific and its CEO, Jonnie Williams. He said he concluded after hearing from supporters that the gifts were perceived as a problem for his gubernatorial campaign.
"The idea here is to clear the air. I've heard from my own supporters and people around the state on this and from my perspective, we'll be able to ... focus on issues not, maybe not completely but as much as possible,'' he said.
He also told Richmond's WWBT he had been questioned by federal investigators about Williams.
“Yes, I was asked questions about Jonnie,” Cuccinelli said. “But that was months and months ago.”
Cuccinelli is not a wealthy man. He, his wife, Tiero, and their seven children lived off reported household income of $192,279 last year, most of it from wages of $157,350 earned as attorney general, according to his 2012 income tax returns made public earlier this year.
The gifts from Williams and or his company date to a 2009 flight to New York. They include some items that Cuccinelli initially forgot to disclose until he amended four years' worth of required state economic disclosure forms in April. The amendments were made to disclose a $3,000 summer vacation last year and a $1,500 catered Thanksgiving feast in 2010, both at the Smith Mountain Lake waterside mansion Williams recently sold.
The largest single component of the gifts was $6,712 worth of Star Scientific nutritional supplements the company gave to Cuccinelli in 2011. That same year, company representatives unsuccessfully lobbied senior McDonnell administration officials to include its anti-inflammatory supplement, Anatabloc, in the health benefits plan for all Virginia government employees.
Pressure mounted on Cuccinelli to return the gifts or reimburse Williams for them after McDonnell publicly apologized for more than $145,000 in gifts and loans Williams gave him and his family, and pledged to return all tangible gifts or repay Williams for them.
The gifts prompted a federal criminal investigation into whether Williams or his company benefited as a result the gifts to McDonnell. A state investigation is also continuing into whether McDonnell violated the state's porous ethics laws by not publicly reporting the gifts on his annual statements of economic interest. McDonnell defended his decision, saying state law exempts gifts given to public officials' family members from disclosure.
Cuccinelli at the time said he couldn't return or reimburse Williams for the gifts because no money ever changed hands. "There are some bells you can't unring,'' he said at the time.
Democrats were swift to make the most of it. Democratic Party of Virginia spokesman Brian Coy called it Cuccinelli's belated admission that taking Williams' largesse was wrong. "This late, clearly political act can't undo his unethical pattern of putting his own financial interests ahead of Virginia families,'' Coy said.