Handouts Corrupt All Governors

What the scandal in Virginia teaches us about politics as usual.


The defense of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is actually an indictment — of him, and Virginia politics generally.

The prosecution wants to show that Jonnie Williams, the nutritional-supplement salesman who showered McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, with money and pricey gifts, got something special in return: the governor's intercession on behalf of Williams' company, Star Scientific.

McDonnell did do things for Star. He asked members of his administration to meet with company representatives. He held a launch party for the company's premier product, a tobacco extract, at the Executive Mansion. He personally pitched the product to staffers. Maureen even pitched it to Ann Romney.

The governor's defense, though, boils down to this: "So what? He did the same for lots of other companies, too." On the stand, "the former governor said he was eager to promote all Virginia businesses," reported The Washington Post. As The New York Times noted, "the Richmond-based insurer Genworth Financial won a $7 million tax savings from the McDonnell administration. A local brewery . . . got a bill-signing ceremony. The governor pulled out all the stops to help an Israeli firm partner with Pepsi-Cola to make Sabra hummus in Virginia."

"Gov. McDonnell Joins First Lady, Sheila Johnson at Salamander Resort Reception Touting Wine Industry," reported Leesburg Today back in 2012. In court, the McDonnell defense "offered up hundreds of notices like this," noted a TV reporter. Hundreds.

If Jonnie Williams now thinks he got the short end of the stick, you can't blame him. At times the McDonnell administration was a geyser of corporate welfare. It gave the online retailer $300,000 from the Governor's Opportunity Fund — essentially, a state slush pile, begun in 1992 by Doug Wilder. It gave General Electric a similar sum to help the company, which is worth $265 billion, with employee recruitment. (Every little bit helps, right?)

Under McDonnell the state spent nearly $7 million to bring a 50-job Microsoft data center to Mecklenburg. It threw millions at Steven Spielberg, one of the richest men on the planet, to film part of "Lincoln" in Virginia. It bribed the Washington Redskins to stay in state with millions more.

Near the end of his term, McDonnell's staff produced a glossy, 50-page brochure summarizing his accomplishments. It boasts of the increased funding for the Opportunity Fund; of how McDonnell "developed and passed [the state's] first film industry tax credit;" of how he "led more foreign trade missions than any other governor;" of how he convened a Governor's Conference on Energy, and "passed legislation to establish a Green Jobs Tax Credit," and "established the Clean Energy Manufacturing Incentive Grant," and on and on.

If you read the Constitution of Virginia, you won't find anything remotely connected to any of that. The governor's job, as defined in the constitution, is simple and straightforward: He is to execute the laws of the commonwealth, fill departmental vacancies, serve as commander-in-chief of the state's armed forces and, if necessary, repel invasion or suppress insurrection. Maybe offer up a clemency now and then — but that's about it.

There is nary a word about hawking products like a late-night infomercial.

And yet, from the way McDonnell and other upper-tier politicians talk, you would think the governor's principal function is to act as the promotion and marketing department for Virginia Inc.

McDonnell ran for governor on a three-syllable platform: "Bob's for Jobs." With the country still dragging its hindquarters out of the Great Recession, the message sold well: McDonnell won 59 percent to 41 percent against state Sen. Creigh Deeds, whom he had edged past in the race for attorney general four years earlier by a mere 323 votes. In fact, the theme sold so well Democrat Terry McAuliffe borrowed it for his own campaign theme: "Putting Jobs First."

By the time McAuliffe won, the festering McDonnell scandal had burst. High dudgeon was de rigueur. In his inaugural address, McAuliffe announced he would sign an executive order imposing gift limits on himself and members of his administration, and he urged the legislature to "enact the strongest possible new ethics rules." What McAuliffe did not do was address the original sin beneath the McDonnell scandal — the real reason business interests want to grease politicians' palms in the first place.

Like his predecessor, McAuliffe has continued to give away millions of dollars to companies big and small. Last month, he awarded $4.5 million from the Governor's Opportunity Fund, plus another $5 million from a different pot of economic-development money, to bring the headquarters of CEB, a business-services company, to Arlington. He also has shelled out $5 million for a Chinese paper plant, $300,000 for an engineering company expansion, $350,000 for a fitness-equipment maker, $65,000 for a packaging company and so on.

(McDonnell's predecessor, Tim Kaine, did much the same. Among other things, he used the Opportunity Fund for Hilton hotels, Rolls-Royce and Maersk. Republicans accused Kaine of not using the fund enough. Democrats blasted McDonnell for having voted to cut it.)

The funds come from the state's coffers, which are filled by Virginia taxpayers, which include businesses that might have done other, better things with the money. But politicians find the political allocation of economic goods irresistible because the benefits are clear and concentrated, while the costs are hidden and dispersed.

Despite his calls for tougher ethics rules, however, just three months ago McAuliffe vetoed one. The bill would have prohibited both him and his political action committee from taking money from companies that seek or get handouts from — you guessed it — the Governor's Opportunity Fund.

Moreover, McAuliffe speaks about the state's economy much as McDonnell did. "We need to … build a new entrepreneurial, innovative and dynamic economy," he told leaders of the General Assembly's budget committees a few days ago. "If Virginia is going to remain a leader in the global marketplace, we must renew our efforts to diversify our economy."

We? Our?

The state's economy does not belong to the state's politicians. It is not theirs to manage or direct — though clearly they think otherwise.

As long as they think that — as long as they try to direct the state's economy using slush-fund handouts, special tax favors and product promotions — business interests will continue trying to grab a piece of the action. And the higher the stakes, the harder they'll try. As Jonnie Williams testified when asked why he made his private jet available to McDonnell: "If you're a Virginia company, you want to make sure you have access to these people. He's a politician, I'm a businessman." Q.E.D.

Did Bob McDonnell surrender to some form of corruption when he took so much swag from Williams? No doubt. But by then he already had committed a form of corruption far graver — the kind that led Williams to assume he could get something for his swag in the first place.

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  1. McAuliffe has continued to give away millions of dollars to companies big and small. Last month, he awarded $4.5 million from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund, plus another $5 million from a different pot of economic-development money,

    It’s ok when Team BLUE does it. Also, why does this exist? The whole charade is like giving a man a beer and then being surprised that he drinks it. Speaking of, I’d say it’s about that time.

    1. Does Virginia have a referendum system? They need to cut off the beer supply.

  2. OT: and now it’s about changing your eating habits:…..150209.htm

    1. “Cutting food waste and moderating meat consumption in more balanced diets, are the essential ‘no-regrets’ options.”

      Simply criminalize wasting food and ration meat.

    2. As populations rise and global tastes shift towards meat-heavy Western diets, increasing agricultural yields will not meet projected food demands of what is expected to be 9.6 billion people — making it necessary to bring more land into cultivation.

      This will come at a high price, warn the authors, as the deforestation will increase carbon emissions as well as biodiversity loss, and increased livestock production will raise methane levels. They argue that current food demand trends must change through reducing waste and encouraging balanced diets.

      If we maintain ‘business as usual’, say the authors, then by 2050 cropland will have expanded by 42% and fertiliser use increased sharply by 45% over 2009 levels. A further tenth of the world’s pristine tropical forests would disappear over the next 35 years.

      The study shows that increased deforestation, fertilizer use and livestock methane emissions are likely to cause GHG from food production to increase by almost 80%. This will put emissions from food production alone roughly equal to the target greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 for the entire global economy.

      The study’s authors write that halving the amount of food waste and managing demand for particularly environmentally-damaging food products by changing global diets should be key aims that, if achieved, might mitigate some of the greenhouse gases causing climate change.

      Can’t wait for the UK to institute the Ministry of Plenty.

      1. The problem with this argument is that the most recent trends I’ve seen show the planet’s population starting to decline by the end of the century. That means in 200 years we’ll need to cultivate far less land and the forests will have begun to return.

        At current trends, this will be a short term problem that will resolve itself due to declining birth rates.

    3. Deciding what you put in your body is far too important a decision to be left up to you. Do you even have any credentials demonstrating your qualifications to choose which foods are best for you? We need to have a national conversation about what you eat, and how that impacts the environment, society, and sustainability for our children. Leaving these important decisions up to individuals is anarchy! TOP MEN! TOP MEN! TOP MEN!

  3. Anyone up for a twofer from Salon?

    Shot: Not all Twerks are Created Equal: Teaching my Kids to Appreciate Pop Culture.

    And booty has meaning. My daughter is equally loyal to Nicki Minaj ? with whom she shares an obsession with wigs ? as she is to Taylor Swift. But when she hears the wildly explicit, genuinely catchy “Anaconda,” which is already quickly becoming unavoidable, I know she doesn’t quite get that it’s a riff on the Sir Mix-a-Lot song I happily grooved to a generation earlier, an enthusiastic tribute to the “thick soul sisters” ? complete with a clear message to females of my body type that “You ain’t it, Miss Thing.” My children are only now starting to grasp that that message is a big part of what all this rump shaking is about, and figuring out for themselves that “appreciating a culture,” as Katy Perry would say, means understanding context. That means that when Minaj is singing about her “big fat ass bitches,” a) I’d prefer my kids not sing along but also b) that they understand she is celebrating the kind of women you don’t see in Victoria’s Secret ads.

    1. Chaser: I never should have followed my dreams.

      Forty-two and single, I was jumping without a net into the potential person I was meant to be. I’d watched Larry Smith’s famous TED Talk about following one’s passion, and enrolled in an advertising portfolio class. I was determined to rebrand myself as a digital copywriter.

      Denied unemployment benefits for resigning, I contacted a pro-bono legal organization. They appointed a lawyer who believed I had a strong case for collecting on appeal. I imagined rising like a phoenix from a pyre of word processors.

      Then my advertising class ended.

      “No one will hire you with a spec portfolio,” a well-known recruiter who’d been recommended to me said. “You’ll have to work for free.”

      I was disappointed. I hadn’t expected a welcoming party, just an entry-level spot. I had a friend who wrote junk mail at a department store. How hard could it be?

      Five months after my grand exit, I won retroactive unemployment benefits but was still jobless. I started to panic and attended r?sum? workshops, where I agonized over every bullet point. In my dreams at night I begged my boss, who’d put me on probation three times, for my old job back.

      Hi, every problem I have is my fault. I sucked so much at my job, my boss continuously put me on probation. Then I inexplicably quit at the age of 42 to pursue a pipe dream.

      1. And then he starts suing people for not paying him to quit his job. He thinks everything he’s done wrong is someone else’s fault, and then he’s surprised when no one will hire him.

        1. He’s like the perfect Salon reader!

          1. He did all the things the experts told him to do. He followed orders and he had the best intentions, but he still couldn’t make it. This is why idiots think capitalism is evil and pine for socialism.

            1. Yeah – socialism is heavy on inherent guidance (i.e. specific paths laid out to follow that even idiots can manage to get right, like cattle through a chute), low on incentive. Capitalism is low on guidance, but high on incentive.

              Different people want/need different things in life. The problem is socialism doesn’t work unless the idots force everyone to go through the cattle-chute of socialism. Whereas capitalism is much more tolerant of other socio-economic models, and would exist just fine if some small group wanted to hinder themselves with socialism.

              1. The problem is socialism doesn’t work unless the idots force everyone to go through the cattle-chute of socialism.


                Socialism doesn’t work because it confuses money for wealth. Wealth is something of value that must be created, while money is a promise for future wealth. It’s that wealth creation part that they don’t understand. They feel that wealth magically creates itself from capital, and the capitalists unfairly profit from it. Whereas in a good socialist system, the capital is all owned by the government which fairly distributes the profits to the people. At least that’s the essence of Piketty’s “masterpiece.”

  4. my neighbor’s step-aunt makes $78 hourly on the internet . She has been without a job for ten months but last month her income was $16513 just working on the internet for a few hours. this page……..


  5. This stuff happens everyday in every state. It’s a part of our system. Want to change the system? Good luck!

  6. And yet, from the way McDonnell and other upper-tier politicians talk, you would think the governor’s principal function is to act as the promotion and marketing department for Virginia Inc.

    How else can they justify traveling to exotic locations on the taxpayer’s nickel?

  7. my buddy’s sister-in-law makes $77 hourly on the computer . She has been without a job for 7 months but last month her payment was $13847 just working on the computer for a few hours. browse around this site ……..


  8. A man is driven to seek the governorship because he just wants to help people. What’s so bad about that?


    Sheesh, now even *the Vice President* hates Obama for the color of his skin. 8-(

  10. Stupid libertarians don’t understand that the solution to abuse of power is more power.

    You see, politicians give out handouts because they don’t have the power not to.

    If they were given more power, then they’d have the power to stop corruption and handouts.

    But stupid libertarians want to take power away, which means more corruption, since the politicians won’t have the power to stop it.

  11. Are you suggesting that Terry McAuliffe is a lying, hypocritical sack of shit?

    1. I thought this was already common knowledge.

  12. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail


  13. Sebastian . I just agree… Helen `s artlclee is astonishing, I just bought Chevrolet when I got my cheque for $6747 this-last/month and would you believe, ten k last-month . without a doubt it is the nicest work Ive had . I actually started 8-months ago and straight away made myself over $78, p/h .
    100% free registration——-

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