Whither Bob McDonnell?

Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect

Just last year, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was touted as a top-tier candidate for national office. Successful and well-liked in the Commonwealth, he could sell conservatism as a reasonable, pragmatic approach to solving the nation’s problems.

In just the last few months, however, things have just collapsed for the Virginia governor, who is limited to a single term by state law. First, in throwing his remaining political capital behind an overhaul of Virginia’s transportation infrastructure, he alienated conservative activists—in the state, and nationwide—for his support of new taxes to pay for road improvements and other measures. And now, over the last few weeks, he’s been embroiled in a controversy—and FBI investigation—over his relationship with the chief executive of Star Scientific, a major donor to his campaign.

The short story is that the executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., gave $15,000 to pay for the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter. McDonnell, however, claimed that the bride and the groom had covered that expense. In doing so, he lied about the financing and failed to disclose the gift. What’s more, after the wedding, McDonnell hosted Williams at the governor’s mansion for an event. Here’s The Washington Post with more details:

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has said his daughter and her husband paid for their own wedding. So a $15,000 check from a major campaign donor to pay for the food at the affair was a gift to the bride and groom and not to him, and therefore did not have to be publicly disclosed under the law, the governor says.

But documents obtained by The Washington Post show that McDonnell signed the catering contract, making him financially responsible for the 2011 event. The governor made handwritten notes to the caterer in the margins. In addition, the governor paid nearly $8,000 in deposits for the catering.

When the combination of the governor’s deposit and the gift from the donor resulted in an overpayment to the caterer, the refund check of more than $3,500 went to McDonnell’s wife and not to his daughter, her husband or back to the donor.

The new documents suggest that the governor was more involved with the financing of the wedding than he has previously acknowledged.

The more information comes out, the more this looks like a straightforward case of quid pro quo. Which, for McDonnell, puts another nail in the coffin of his national ambitions. Political rehabilitations aren’t rare, but McDonnell doesn’t have a lot on his side. After he leaves office at the beginning of next year, his only conceivable path to prominence is through the Senate. And to get there, he would have to face Democratic incumbent Mark Warner in what would be a fiercely contested election.

And where does McDonnell stand vis a vis Warner? In a hypothetical match-up, according to Public Policy Polling, Warner leads McDonnell, 52 percent to 42 percent.