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Way less political gifts given in 2013—year of McDonnell scandal

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)–The life of a politician certainly appears to strenuous, but the job comes with a lot of perks, something which has been thrust into the spotlight with the latest gift scandal that ensnared the Commonwealth’s former governor.

Based on reports CBS 6 examined, that were compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), state leaders have accepted thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts, including tickets to high-profile sporting events, free dinners, clothing and even trips overseas.

Former Lt. Governor Bill Bolling accepted gifts, for example, nearly $600 from the Washington Redskins and $400 from Busch Gardens. The largest gift disclosed in 2013 was to McDonnell, and valued at nearly $15,000, from Gold-Key PHR Hotel and Resorts.

However fewer gifts were accepted by state lawmakers in 2013 than in years past, coincidentally that’s when McDonnell and his wife were criticized for taking gifts and loans from wealthy donor and former CEO of Star Scientific, Jonnie Williams.

The year before the Executive Mansion took up residence in national headlines, elected officials claimed 124 more gifts than in 2013, for a total of 212 donors, according to VPAP.

In 2013, a combined total of $70, 536 was claimed by politicians. In 2012, a total of $364,317 in gifts were donated. The largest gift in 2012, at $25,000, also went to McDonnell, from John G Rocovich, Jr. for a flight to Puerto Rico.

Even after being indicted, McDonnell insisted they did nothing wrong. “I believe that the facts and law are clearly on our side,” said McDonnell during a press conference Monday.

McDonnell accused other former governors, and politicians of doing the same.

“The United States Supreme Court has already rejected this radical idea, and for good reason, because if it were applied as the law of the land, then nearly every elected official from President Obama on down would have to be charged for providing tangible benefits to donors,” McDonnell said at his press conference on Tuesday.

Former governor and now U.S. Senator Tim Kaine accepted nearly $2,000 worth of clothes and shoes from his friend, the CEO of S&K clothing and nearly $40,000 from the Obama campaign, according to financial reports.

“That’s a very bad defense and not true to boot,” said political watchdog Paul Goldman. Goldman said other lawmakers reported their gifts and more importantly, they can be defended as work-related, but, not the McDonnells.

“You got weddings, dresses, loans to pay off credit cards. It really looks bad. If he had come out and said I took the money from Williams, he gave me a nice loan, he wouldn’t be going to federal court to get finger-printed for 14 felony counts,” said Goldman.

Goldman also said that McDonnell will have to explain what appears to be his advocacy for William’s product amongst high-ranking state officials.

The indictment established a timeline showing the financial amounts discussed or exchanged and times when the McDonnells’ promoted the supplement Anatabloc.

For example, just days after McDonnell received $50,000 for Williams, as an undocumented loan, he pulled Anatabloc out of his pocket and “told the Secretary of Administration and one of her staff members that Anatabloc® had beneficial health effects, that he personally took Anatabloc®, and that it was working well for him,” according to the indictment.

The timelines also includes the purchase, selling and the re-purchasing of stock around the times of required annual reporting of investments.

It is a 43-page document that you can read here: McDonnells’ Indictment.

The McDonnells’ will be in court Friday, Jan. 24. The judge presiding over the McDonnell case–one of the highest profile cases in Virginia history –is James Randolph Spencer.

In 1986 Spencer became the first African-American to serve as a federal judge in the Commonwealth. He became chief judge in 2004.

Spencer says he decided to become a lawyer following his involvement in the civil rights movement. And has since had a long list of jobs including working as an assistant to the U.S. Attorney in Virginia and Washington  D.C.

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