Thomas Jefferson wrote of his “detestation of the corruption of the English government” and wished for “an ocean of fire between that island and us” to protect America from that aristocratic culture. Two hundred years later, Jefferson’s successor as the governor of Virginia had aides trying to score free rounds of golf and hotel rooms.
And now, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the eleven felony convictions of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell.
McDonnell’s tawdry story of cash and favors (covered here, here and here) saw him receiving cash, clambakes, Ferrari rides, Rolexes and more in exchange for using the governor’s office to open doors in Virginia government for a tobacco-based nutritional supplement whose makers were desperate for credibility without going through the usual routes to credibility.
McDonnell tried to get Virginia government institutions to bless the tobacco pill instead of the manufacturer paying for their own clinical trials.
In exchange, the manufacturer gave McDonnell cash, loans, gifts, golf clubs, golf bags, jets, and more, much more.
But it seems McDonnell’s freeloading might have gone well beyond his cash-for-credibility pill scheme.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion reveals that McDonnell’s camp was keen on scoring free golf and hotels… wherever they might find it.
Where they might find it reveals a political insider’s grift: the Virginia Governor’s Guide to Scoring Free Golf.
Enter Adam Zubowsky, McDonnell’s travel aide and eventual son-in-law.
Zubowsky sent his successor as travel aide an email, noted in the Fourth Circuit’s opinion, describing the grift and how to score free golf.
Yes basically this means find out who we know in these cities, that owns golf courses and will let me and my family play for free, or at a reduced cost. Also finding out where to stay for free / or reduced cost. So this means . . . find out about pac donors, and rga donors, who will host rfm.
Zubowsky now serves as manager of government affairs at Smithfield, a pork producer.
Scoring free golf and lodging for the Virginia governor went like this:
1. Find out who the governor might know in the areas where he is traveling.
2. See who owns the course and if they will let McDonnell, Adam Zubowsky and the “family” play for free.
3. If that doesn’t work, look up who donated to the Republican Governors Association that might use their money or resources to put the McDonnell family up for the night.
4. If that doesn’t yield a free night, look up political action committee donors to score free lodging.
This isn’t something regular Americans enjoy when they travel — free golf and free lodging from the politically connected. It reflects an insider’s aristocratic culture of favors and freebies.
McDonnell wasn’t charged for the scheme described in Zubowsky’s email, though it seems as distasteful as the Ferrari or Rolexes. When Zubowsky and his successor were asking political donors to provide free golf or free lodging, they were presumably making the calls as state employees.
Take note of the mention of the Republican Governors Association. The RGA was seen in Camp McDonnell as a source to score free stuff, or more accurately, the donor base was. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is currently the head of the RGA.
This mess would seem to give Republicans like Haslam an easy opportunity to deliver a strong statement against political corruption. After all, his donors were being shaken down. If you thought that, you thought wrong:
One brief, filed by a branch of the Republican Governors Association, argues that meeting with political donors or gift-givers and their allies constitutes “everyday, everywhere conduct” that can be found in any number of governors’ mansions across the country.
Robert McDonnell will certainly be headed to prison shortly. Those sounding the alarm about his conviction and affirmation in the Fourth Circuit warn that the application of federal law to prosecute politicians who meet with and support a private person’s cause in exchange for something is a dangerous development. Reading the sleazy story of insiders scoring free golf and more for Robert McDonnell, I doubt very many Americans will care.