Embattled Donor Tied To All Three Past GOP Nominees For Virginia Governor

Views

Perhaps Jonnie Williams was hoping the third time would be a charm.The prominent Virginia political donor and businessman, whose struggling dietary supplements company is under federal investigation, has been in the news for his ties to Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R). Undisclosed payments and gifts totaling at least $145,000 dollars to McDonnell and his family are now reportedly the subject of state and federal investigations. Also raising questions are thousands of dollars worth of Williams’ company’s stock purchased by Cuccinelli, along with other gifts provided by Williams to the attorney general.

Both McDonnell and Cuccinelli, who is currently running for governor, originally reported thousands of dollars in gifts from Williams and his company, only to have further gifts or financial ties come to light later.

But Williams’ ties to top Virginia Republicans go back further than the current administration. Williams and his company, Star Scientific, gave heavily to the 2005 gubernatorial campaign of Republican Jerry Kilgore. Kilgore, who served as Virginia’s attorney general from 2002 to 2005, lost to Democrat Tim Kaine. Currently a partner at the law firm McGuireWoods, Kilgore now serves as Williams’ attorney, and has acted as his spokesperson during the current scandal.

In other words, Williams and his company have had financial ties to Virginia’s past three attorneys general, and its past three Republican gubernatorial nominees. And one of those former attorneys general is now his lawyer. (McDonnell served as attorney general from 2006 to 2009.)

Records maintained by The Virginia Public Access Project show that Star Scientific gave over $250,000 in campaign contributions in Virginia between 1999 and 2011. Much of that money went to McDonnell’s gubernatorial campaign and leadership PAC between 2009 and 2011. But the top recipient of Star Scientific donations during the 12 year period was actually Kilgore’s 2005 gubernatorial campaign. Star Scientific contributed $101,462 to the Kilgore campaign between 2002 and 2005. And Williams personally chipped in another $27,323.

The financial ties between Williams and Kilgore don’t end there. In 2002, Star Scientific contributed $5,000 to Kilgore’s Inaugural Committee. And while he served as Virginia attorney general from 2001 to 2004, Kilgore disclosed receiving several thousand dollars in further gifts from Star Scientific. In 2002, he reported receiving $6,828 from the company, mostly flight payments, according to The Virginia Public Access Project’s records. (The office of Virginia’s Secretary of the Commonwealth told TPM it only maintains records going back five years.) In 2003, Kilgore disclosed receiving $125 from Star Scientific, for a dinner.

To be clear, Kilgore has not been mentioned as a subject of the investigations into Williams’ gifts, and there is nothing improper on the surface about Kilgore having received donations and disclosed gifts from Williams. But in his capacity as Williams’ lawyer, Kilgore has declined to comment to several news outlets covering the McDonnell scandal in recent weeks. His own past ties to Williams, meanwhile, appear to have been overlooked.

TPM spoke with Kilgore briefly on Tuesday. At first, he said he needed to speak with his co-counsel before commenting. But he then offered a few thoughts on the record.

“I would just say that we reported any items received from Star Scientific and Jonnie Williams,” Kilgore said, indicating that money and gifts were disclosed on campaign finance reports and financial disclosure forms. “Most of it would have been on the campaign finance reports.”

Photo: In this Aug. 25, 2000 file photo, Jonnie Williams, chief executive officer of Star Scientific Inc., talks on the floor of Star Scientific Inc.’s tobacco processing facility in Chase City, Va. Williams, a former Virginia car salesman-turned-entrepreneur, is now caught in a growing political drama with the governor and state attorney general.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website?s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl@talkingpointsmemo.com
LIKE US ON FACEBOOK