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Tit for tat on questionable ethics

Published 9:56pm Tuesday, February 4, 2014

For a guy of Bob McDonnell’s political acumen, his family’s involvement with a modern-day snake-oil salesman — the infamous Jonnie Williams of Star Scientific — was stunningly foolish.

When Williams began lavishing McDonnell and his wife with gifts, trips and financial favors, a bright fellow who was considered presidential timber just a couple of years ago demonstrated all the discipline and willpower of a twentysomething bimbo falling hard for her sugar daddy.

Whether McDonnell broke the law is another question. Perhaps it will surface in the courtroom when the former governor and his wife go on trial for federal corruption charges, but for now, no evidence suggests that Williams received anything other than publicity for his dietary supplements. Prosecutors appear to have a tough job proving anything more sinister.

On the unseemly scale, McDonnell’s misdeeds smell no worse than his successor’s royal treatment of a campaign supporter.

Longtime GOP operative Boyd Marcus surprised many political observers last year when he endorsed Democrat Terry McAuliffe for governor after, some Republican insiders claim, GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli rejected Marcus’ attempts to peddle his consulting services.

Marcus ended up on the payroll of McAuliffe’s campaign to the tune of $140,000, then landed after the election in one of the cushiest of political seats: a spot on the Alcoholic Beverage Control board, at an annual salary of $130,000. That appointment by McAuliffe requires General Assembly confirmation — and may yet get scuttled by GOP lawmakers who find Marcus’ partisan transformation a little too greasy even by recent Richmond standards.

If indeed McDonnell’s actions are proved to be criminal and McAuliffe’s acceptable, Virginia needs to either rewrite its ethics laws from scratch or have none. We might as well revert to the late 19th century, when elected service was openly about patronage.

Today, Republicans splinter into factions based on disagreement over fiscal and social policy. Back then, it was about who got appointed to what by whom, a system that allowed, most notably, Lincoln to pass the 13th Amendment by promising congressmen jobs as postmasters and revenue collectors in exchange for their votes.

At least the cause was noble back then. In 21st century Richmond, there’s nothing so high-minded about the self-enriching behavior of some elected officials and their contributors.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is steve.stewart@suffolknewsherald.com.

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