As the slow drip of unflattering headlines continues for Republican Bob McDonnell, investigations into the Virginia governor’s undisclosed gifts and relationship with a prominent campaign donor could have an impact on the race to replace him.
The Washington Post’s latest story on McDonnell’s relationship between Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams reported that the dietary supplement manufacturer gave $70,000 to a real estate corporation led by the governor and his sister, in addition to a $50,000 check to the governor’s wife, Maureen McDonnell.
The new revelations bring the amount Williams has given the McDonnell family to $145,000, now at the center of state and federal investigations.
The Rachel Maddow show obtained McDonnell's financial disclosure statements from 2008-2012. The forms include detailed information about MoBo Real Estate Partners.
McDonnell may not have broken any laws in a state with weak campaign finance and reporting regulations. But the embattled governor could quickly become politically toxic in a year when the Old Dominion governor's race is the biggest political contest in 2013, with Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe running neck and neck in polling.
Democrats are quick to point out that Cuccinelli too has ties to Williams. The attorney general admitted earlier this year to accepting gifts from Williams, including stays at his waterfront property and a catered Thanksgiving dinner, and he owned stock in Star Scientific. Cuccinelli has since sold that stock and amended his disclosures, and his campaign has pointed out that it's the attorney general who initiated the investigation.
Just how the deepening scandal will affect the race to succeed him remains uncertain, but Republicans have privately begun to worry that bad headlines for McDonnell could well become a problem for the GOP nominee, too.
"There's no question it's going to have an effect," former Virginia Republican congressman Tom Davis told msnbc. "The biggest problem is also that Williams did Cuccinelli a bunch of favors as well, which he didn't report in a timely manner."
"To the extent that there are only two politicians this guy gave to, it complicates things for the Republican ticket," said Davis, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
But it's not just Cuccinelli’s own ties to Williams that will be a lingering problem, but the fact that the popular McDonnell was supposed to be a boon to him, allowing him to position himself as continuing a strong economic legacy.
"You always want to be able to have an incumbent in good standing when you’re trying to succeed that person," NBC Senior Political Editor Mark Murray said on Wednesday's The Daily Rundown's web exclusive Gaggle.
On Wednesday, both sides were eager to point fingers, with the Democratic Governors Association sending out a memo outlining not just the timeline of McDonnell’s associations with Williams, but Cuccinelli's own interactions with the CEO as well.
Cuccinelli’s campaign turned the focus back to McAuliffe, who’s had to answer questions not just over his electric car company GreenTech, but his longtime friendship with the Clintons and influence as a Democratic powerbroker.
“Remember, this is the same Terry McAuliffe who bragged about offering campaign contributors lunch with the President or a flight on Air Force One for a $50,000 donation, saying that he was a salesman and the product he was selling was the President,” Cuccinelli adviser Chris LaCivita wrote in a memo to reporters.
Updated at 7:30 p.m.