Rule of Law

Bob McDonnell Uses Felon Voting Policy to Dodge Prison

Former Virginia Governor and convicted felon Bob McDonnell has converted his public policies supporting automatic felon voting rights into his effort to avoid federal prison. In federal court filings running many hundreds of pages, McDonnell has submitted hundreds of letters from individuals seeking leniency from United States District Judge James R. Spencer. These letters repeatedly cite McDonnell’s support for automatic felon voting rights.

Spencer is set to sentence McDonnell on January 6. He faces upwards of 10 years in prison for his public corruption convictions.

During his term as governor, McDonnell overrode the wishes of the Virginia legislature and initiated a policy to automatically restore felon voting rights. Restoration of felon voting rights is a top priority of Democrats because felons empirically vote for Democrats by overwhelming proportions. Apart from the partisan benefits to Democrats, automatic restoration of felon voting rights has numerous policy problems, including the fact that an individualized (instead of automatic) review of a felon’s restoration of rights application ensures a more fair process. (PJ Media covered McDonnell’s adoption of Democrat/George Soros felon voting objectives here, here and here.)

Under federal sentencing guidelines, McDonnell may submit letters regarding his character to help him avoid prison. A review of the hundreds of pages of letters by PJ Media include many heartwarming stories of McDonnell’s character, including his trip to New Orleans to help rebuild after Katrina. They also include a touching story of McDonnell reaching out to the family of a young runner who died during a race.

McDonnell drives a Ferrari

McDonnell drives a Ferrari

But the hundreds of letters also provide accidental context to the prosecution’s case against McDonnell as well as insight into the political traits of the former governor.  The letters are mostly from political appointees of McDonnell, campaign staffers, political donors, recipients of appointments to state boards, political figures and others who received favors from McDonnell over the years. McDonnell was convicted of using public office for personal gain. The hundreds of letters are intended to help McDonnell avoid federal prison.

A deep strain of incredulity also runs through the letters. Numerous authors plainly doubt the validity of McDonnell’s conviction. One such author in denial is Dorothy Jaeckle, an elected official in Chesterfield County.

McDonnell “is in no possible way a felon,” Jaeckle wrote to Judge Spence.  On September 4, 2014, McDonnell was convicted of eleven felony counts by a jury.


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The letters also reveal that McDonnell took private positions defending President Obama when many of his Republican attorney’s general colleagues voiced opposition to President Obama.

Attorney Andrew Ketterer attended a meeting of the GOP AG’s with McDonnell.  He detailed to Judge Spencer how McDonnell criticized his fellow Republicans for opposing President Obama.  “He said he hoped President Obama could move this nation forward and heal the wounds that separated us both politically and in other ways,” Ketterer recalled. “He asked his [GOP AG] colleagues to reconsider their wishes that the Obama presidency fail.”

Andrew Ketterer

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McDonnell’s efforts to avoid prison utilize his support for automatically restoring felon voting rights — and the hundreds of pages of letters reveal how McDonnell cozied up to activists and gave them what they wanted without any input from opposing sides.

One political appointee of Governor McDonnell, Martin D. Brown, cited McDonnell’s efforts to automatically restore felon voting rights as a reason to keep McDonnell out of prison.  Brown served as a commissioner to the state Department of Social Services.

Martin Brown

Martin Brown

Brown’ letter to the judge cites praise for McDonnell from Ben Jealous of the NAACP:

One last occasion that I would like to share that highlights the character of Bob McDonnell is his Executive Order which expanded the automatic restoration of civil rights to non-violent ex-offenders. Governor McDonnell often stated when talking about the restoration of rights that “we are a nation of second chances,” “we believe in forgiveness and restoration.” That giving people “second chances is the American way.” Ben Jealous, National President of the NAACP, participated in the event and lauded Governor McDonnell for demonstrating great courage and integrity. In an interview with Democracy Now, Mr. Jealous said it best: “You heard the Governor talk about redemption for instance. That is the value that he and I found three years ago when we talked about this, that we both treasure.

Ben Jealous did not submit a letter supporting Governor McDonnell.  As I wrote at the Washington Times, groups like the NAACP tend “to cast aside any short-term Republican allies they can trick. Friendship, praise and higher office cannot be gained by capitulation to their agenda.”

Brown wasn’t the only political insider who emphasized McDonnell’s automatic felon voting restoration edict.  In fact, those closest to McDonnell seemed to most consistently mention his felon voting policy.  Even his scheduler sang from the songbook.

Katherine E. Harris, McDonnell’s former scheduler, even elevated the policy to a proper noun in urging he not go to prison — saying McDonnell’s “commitment to numerous initiatives, including…streamlining the Restoration of Rights process…has had a significant impact on Virginians’ lives.”

Katherine E. Harris

Katherine E. Harris

“Streamlining” under McDonnell’s felon voting edict meant jettisoning the longstanding individual review conducted by both Republican and Democrat governors.  No matter, though — prison looms for the ex-politician.  No mention in Harris’ letter of the “significant impact” the policy will have on the fate of the GOP, or that Democrat partisans have called for the change for decades.

Besides McDonnell’s inner political circle, the other group frequently mentioning his automatic felon voting restoration efforts in the avoid-jail letters are activists.  The letter from Clovia Lawrence is particularly revealing.  It reveals a long-term plan by McDonnell to secure automatic felon voting, a plan McDonnell certainly never once mentioned at any political event where I heard him speak.

Lawrence says that when McDonnell was running for governor, he said to the community activist Lawrence “what topics are high on your agenda for change?”  Right then and there, McDonnell promised that Lawrence’s top priority — automatic felon voting rights — would happen.  Lawrence details how McDonnell enlisted her group — Rolling For Freedom — to hold rallies and other events to support automatic felon voting.  A snip from her letter urging that McDonnell avoid jail (click to enlarge):

Clovia Lawerence

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To my knowledge, McDonnell never once reached out to any election integrity organization for input regarding the problems with automatic restoration of felon voting rights.

Henry Mack was another person who wrote a letter asking Judge Spencer to not sentence McDonnell to jail.  In Mack’s letter, he also cites McDonnell’s support for automatic felon voting rights, and race.

“We talked about restoring felon voting rights and giving the opportunity to vote and provide for their families,” Mack wrote. “Commonwealth of Virginia has over 890,000 veterans and a high percentage of them are African Americans. As Governor he has helped many African Americans to get their rights restored.”  For good measure, Mack sent Judge Spencer a photo with him and the man facing a federal prison term on Tuesday.

henry mack poto

Many people can differ about the merit of restoring felon voting rights.  But a couple of things are beyond dispute.  McDonnell reversed decades of legislative policy by Obama-style edict.  The legislature would have never automatically restored felon voting rights.  Moreover, even if one supports felon voting rights, automatic felon voting rights are another beast entirely.  It isn’t compassionate to provide automatic mercy.  An individualized examination of the felon’s conscience represents genuine mercy and compassion.

But there is something even more crass and degraded about the parade of letters, many not even detailed here, mentioning McDonnell’s automatic felon voting policies in an effort to dodge prison.  One former government official remarked to me after reading these letters, “Why if you want to score points with the court, why is it useful to show how many far left-wing positions Bob McDonnell has taken?  Why should people who supported the law and practice in Virginia feel we need to be apologetic for believing that there is something wrong with preventing felons automatically from voting?  Why, why is automatic felon voting necessarily a good thing?”

But that’s what happens in a clubby insular political world, where leftwing activism cross-pollinates a Republican administration afraid of not being loved by everyone, the far left included.   I can understand a legal team pulling together hundreds of character letters in an effort to keep a client out of prison.  That’s their job.  But when the letters, read together, reveal a repeating story of favors, appointments, access and policies eventually curing into a letter seeking probation instead of prison, it makes you wonder how genuinely oblivious the players in this system have become.