Bob McDonnell, the former Governor of Virginia, is facing federal indictment, and this the new normal in American politics. The insulated political class the McDonnell represents has become so deeply corrupted by narcissistic political power and the influence of capital as to be tantamount to an aristocracy existing in stark contrast to their erstwhile role as public representatives.
McDonnell and his wife currently facing a fourteen-count federal indictment on corruption charges, revolving around their accepting gifts from the diet supplement manufacturer Star Scientific, and its former CEO Jonnie Williams, Sr. The 43-page federal indictment reads like a laundry list of graft, entitlement, greed and corruption.
The McDonnells are charged with various counts of wire fraud, making false statements, obstructing official proceedings and obtaining property under color of official rights. The gifts in question total some $165,000 and include:
– $15,000 to cover the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter.
– An engraved Rolex watch with “71st Governor of Virginia” on it.
– Thousands of dollars for a shopping spree to Oscar de La Renta and Louis Vuitton, as well as an all-expenses paid trip to New York City to do the shopping.
– A $50,000 loan at two-percent interest over a two-year term.
– Use of Williams’ vacation home and amenities including a Ferrari.
There are emails in which Maureen McDonnell, the former First Lady of Virginia, allegedly described the gubernatorial couple as “broke” and demanded answers as to her budget for clothing for the Inauguration, referencing thousands of dollars in credit card spending. Also in question are rental properties in Virginia that the Governor owned a stake.
The feds claim that in return for the money and gifts, McDonnell effectively became a marketer for Star Scientific and its controversial products, which have yet to garner FDA approval. Star Scientific manufactures what they claim to be tobacco alternatives and anti-inflammatory drugs.
McDonnell, a self-proclaimed religious conservative educated at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, has championed right-to-work policies that allow companies to fire employees without cause. He has opposed abortion rights for women, even in cases of rape and incest. He positioned himself as a moral avatar with beliefs grounded in his religious discipline and belief in free-market capitalism.
The carefully crafted image is being stripped away in the face of the current allegations to reveal a crony capitalist more concerned with his financial well-being and personal needs than the best interest of the Commonwealth he was elected to serve as chief executive.
The matter is complicated, and worsened, by Virginia’s lax rules for political gift-giving. If this scandal does not force the Commonwealth to re-evaluate its policy on officials receiving unlimited donations, the so-called Virginia Way, something is very wrong there. Luckily, the federal statutes demonstrate more common-sense.
The man who was once a Republican golden-boy looked at as a possible vice-presidential candidate is in good company these days. He joins Chris Christie, the Republican Governor of New Jersey, is currently being investigated by multiple bodies in relation to a highly questionable closing of the George Washington Bridge that is being portrayed as part of a campaign of political retribution.
These charges and investigations represent a reaction to the actions and attitudes of a class of political gangsters who use the cover of conservative Republicanism to promote personal agendas and betray an outrageous sense of entitlement. If the investigation against Christie leads to any sort of indictment, the writing will be on the wall for the Republican Party.
The new normal in America is politicians who abuse their authority in the most egregious ways, then deny it to the media. They hold press conferences, obfuscate and scapegoat responsibility, all the while betraying the oaths of office they took to be faithful stewards of the public trust. The indictment of Bob McDonnell and the ongoing investigation of Christie should serve as wake-up calls to Americans of all political stripes. The foxes are loose in the hen-house, and the offices of public officials have become auctions where access to power is available to the highest bidder and those who play ball.
McDonnell and Christie both deny any wrongdoing; what else could they possibly do in their situations? It is no wonder that these men believe that their actions are beyond reproach. In the toxic winner-takes-all environment that has been allowed to fester in the halls of power throughout America, the standard is to fight dirty, fight to win, change the rules as you see fit, and then deny everything.
The grand jury indictment of McDonnell and the federal investigation into the bridge closing are likely the tip of an iceberg of corruption that floats beneath the surface of American politics.The hard-working and long-suffering citizens of America can only hope that bringing the corrupt to justice is also part of the new normal, and that these officials, if found guilty, will be forced to reckon with the true power behind the American enterprise. That power is, and has always been, the will of the people.
By Mark Clarke