Transparency News 7/19/13


Friday, July 19, 2013
State and Local Stories   At this point, if you’re paying attention at all to politics in Virginia, you’ve heard at least some of the stunning revelations about undisclosed gifts that a wealthy, well-connected businessman has lavished on Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, and members of his family. As the gift scandal has unfolded, the coverage has given readers a solid sense of how toothless Virginia’s ethics laws are, and how McDonnell has exploited them. But as an outside observer reading the coverage, I hadn’t been able to get a clear understanding of what exactly it is about the commonwealth that has allowed for such weak oversight and regulation. (Virginia is one of only a handful of states without a statewide ethics commission and one of even fewer in which campaign contributions are not capped, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.)

Columbia Journalism Review

Key McDonnell administration agencies did not give any public funds, grants or contracts to a company whose CEO has showered the first family with gifts, according to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s state-appointed attorney. Three meetings did occur between state officials and Jonnie Williams Sr. or an employee of his company, Star Scientific, Anthony F. Troy writes in a letter McDonnell’s office released Thursday.

A state prosecutor found no evidence that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II broke the law when he failed to disclose substantial stock holdings in Star Scientific and some gifts from the company’s chief executive. Cuccinelli, the GOP candidate for governor, had asked Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring (D) to review his state financial disclosure forms after acknowledging several lapses last spring.
Washington Post
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says he may have helped a businessman who gave him thousands of dollars in gifts in an effort to get grants from a state agency. The businessman, Jonnie Williams Sr., chief executive officer of Star Scientific, never did get any state grants, however. The disclosure came in a footnote to a special investigation report that found Cuccinelli did not violate ethics law by failing to report all of Williams’ more than $19,000 of gifts or all his holdings in stock in William’s company Star Scientific.
Roanoke Times

Virginia Business will have available on its website a live stream of the McAuliffe-Cuccinelli debate at the Omni Homestead Resort on Saturday, July 20. The debate between Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates is from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Judy Woodruff, co-anchor of “PBS NewsHour,” will moderate the debate between Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
Virginia Business

A third-party mail vendor violated protocol in failing to review address labels listing Social Security numbers on brochures sent to 18,700 University of Virginia students, a health insurance provider said Thursday. The direct mailing listing the students' nine-digit Social Security numbers on Aetna Health Care open enrollment brochures was sent July 3, UVa officials said. Eight days later - on July 11 - a student notified the university, the school said. The university provided the students' information, including the Social Security numbers, to Aetna, school officials said.
Roanoke Times

Earlier in the meeting [of the Patrick County School Board], former Virginia attorney general Mary Sue Terry, a Patrick County native and resident, addressed the school board. After admonishing Morris for not looking at the speakers, which Terry said showed a lack of respect, she asked the identity of a woman seated with the board. The woman was identified as Stacy Haney, an associate with the Reed Smith law firm in Richmond. Terry then asked the board to adopt rules of order by the end of the meeting. “Right now, this board has no operating rules and that is required under your policy,” Terry said. She received permission to attend Thursday’s meeting after being served with a “No Trespassing” notice following a June meeting in which she was accused of barging into a closed session. Under the notice, Terry was required to have permission from the superintendent or board chairman before going to any future meetings. Terry said she had been advised by Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith that a special prosecutor who was asked to review the notice told her he would not prosecute if Terry attended the meeting without permission.
Martinsville Bulletin

An ongoing and sometimes heated debate about a new Prince William County logo was resolved Tuesday when the Board of County Supervisors reached a compromise of sorts. County departments already using their own distinct logos can continue to do so.  But no new logos can be developed or deployed without supervisors’ formal approval. That means the controversial logo at the center of the debate – a simple design comprised of a dark-blue square set inside a larger, light-blue square – can continue to serve as the official symbol of the county’s Department of Economic Development.

After the 2012 general election, Prince William County made national headlines both by reaffirming itself as a “blue” county, helping to re-elect President Obama, as well as for some very long lines at area polling places that kept voters waiting as long as four hours to cast their ballots. Those hours-long, hallway-snaking lines – some of which were widely shared in YouTube videos and on the national news – seemed worse in areas with higher concentrations of minority voters, sparking accusations that county voting equipment was intentionally sparse at Democratic-leaning precincts. But according to a bi-partisan election task force appointed to investigate such charges, there was no evidence of any deliberate effort to make voting more difficult at some county precincts.
Inside NOVA

Charlie King, the Leesburg attorney representing Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), has filed to subpoena Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) in hopes of securing heaps of York's financial campaign data. On Wednesday afternoon, King requested the following information from York: “All bank statements for all campaign accounts from January 1, 2010 to the present; All deposit slips and records for all campaign accounts from January 1, 2010 to present; All check images for all campaign accounts from January 1, 2010 to present if not attached to the requested bank statements; All donor records for all campaign contributions, including, but not limited to, thank you letters, credit card processing statement and spreadsheets; and all receipts for all expenditures incurred from January 1, 2010 to present.”
Loudoun Times-Mirror

Long before former Mecklenburg Sheriff Stanley Noblin entered a plea in court, he spoke candidly to a State Police investigator about the circumstances that led him to embezzle office fundsfor personal use — money, he insisted, that he had every intention of paying back.  “[I had] all the intent of putting everything back in there, but, y’know, it didn’t work out that way,” Noblin told State Police accountant William Talbert during a roughly 40-minute interview, conducted in mid-September 2012, 10 months after he was first charged with embezzlement and forgery. In the interview, which was entered into the public record following Noblin’s guilty plea Friday to five counts of embezzlement, the ex-sheriff admitted several times to siphoning department funds to pay off mounting personal bills, although he conceded the explanation “doesn’t excuse anything.”
News & Record

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., is calling on the Obama administration to explain why the survivors of last year's deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, were reportedly asked to sign non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from talking about the attack. In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and CIA Director John Brennan, Wolf said his office has received reports that some survivors of the attack were  asked to sign the confidentiality agreement as recently as this summer.
Fox News

Investigators looking into gifts to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his family have asked questions aboutwhether first lady Maureen McDonnell received cosmetic dental work for free, according to two people familiar with the probe. Federal officials have been investigating allegations that a dentist within the large Richmond-area practice of W. Baxter Perkinson Jr. provided cosmetic dentistry services at no charge to the first lady, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Washington Post

National Stories

Sgt. Sean Murphy was incensed by what he saw as the glamorization of the suspected Boston Marathon bomber on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.    So the Massachusetts State Police officer decided to take action. Murphy, a tactical photographer, made public for the first time a series of behind-the-scenes photos documenting the night of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capture in Watertown, Mass.   The images, published Thursday by Boston Magazine, vividly show details of the capture, from the movements of police to Tsarnaev's bloodied condition.
Daily Press

The National Security Agency has imposed new rules designed to sharply restrict the sharing and downloading of top-secret material from its computer networks after a review of how Edward J. Snowden, a former agency contractor, managed to expose several of the country’s most sensitive surveillance programs, two of the Pentagon’s most senior officials said Thursday.
New York Times

A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced an amendment to the federal shield billin an effort to cement Attorney General Eric Holder’s recommended changes regarding the Justice Department’s guidelines when issuing subpoenas to journalists. Specifically, the senators behind the latest version of the shield bill, known as the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013, want to codify into law some of Holder’s recommendations, which strengthens protections for journalists and includes direct oversight by the Attorney General himself when investigations of leakers involve journalists’ constitutionally protected work materials. The senators expressed concern that future administrations could easily undo the proposed Justice Department guidelines.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Cyber-criminals targeted Nasdaq OMX Group’s community forum website and gained access to the email usernames and passwords of the members of the site, which took two days to come back online. The New York-based exchange operator said in an emailed letter to users of the forum that no e-commerce or transactions of any kind were taking place on the website.

A Georgia judge indefinitely extended a stay of execution on Thursday for condemned killer Warren Lee Hill that will allow him to challenge a new law shielding the identity and methods of the company that makes the state's lethal injection drugs. State attorneys will ask the Georgia Supreme Court to lift the stay and allow the execution to proceed on Friday evening. If the stay is lifted, Hill could become the first Georgia prisoner executed with drugs obtained in secret.

Congressional aides in the Senate and House of Representatives said on Thursday that they werenotified of a potential security risk involving email and other accounts. "There have been reports online of Senate and House email accounts being exposed and hacked," said an email warning sent to all Senate staff. The memo added, "no account or data has been accessed or stolen." But the memo warned that the posting of congressional email addresses often leads to "future targets of spear phishing," a type of electronic fraud targeting specific organizations.


Times-Dispatch: Star Scientific ought to launch a crash R&D program to develop a powerful nasal decongestant. Gov. Bob McDonnell has no sense of smell. If he did, he would have known that renting his Henrico house to the state health commissioner flunks the test. Nothing should prevent governors from renting their private residences when they move into the Executive Mansion, yet the potential conflicts raised by renting to a state official appointed by the governor ought to be apparent. The renter serves in a public position at the pleasure of the landlord. McDonnell and Romero should know that this is inappropriate.

Roanoke Times: There seems to be no end to the unraveling of Gov. Bob McDonnell. The latest news on the ethics watch is that the governor is renting his $835,000 Henrico County home to Dr. Cynthia C. Romero, whom he picked in January to be state health commissioner. The governor could be either Romero’s supervisor or her landlord. He can’t be both without running head-on into a conflict of interest, though lately it seems McDonnell is concussed from banging into repeated bad judgment calls. The McDonnell-Romero landlord-tenant relationship is not remotely akin to an employer offering a newly hired high-level executive temporary use of a corporate apartment while searching for a home. It’s a personal financial relationship that is helping to pay the mortgage on a house for which the McDonnells reportedly owe more than it’s worth.

Times-Dispatch: Times-Dispatch reporter Graham Moomaw opened his Thursday story, “Henrico schools’ turnover at issue,” with a troubling paragraph: “Henrico school officials have shown a reluctance to address concerns about employee turnover by refusing to answer questions from the media.” Henrico has a reputation for educational excellence. Its schools attract residents. Citizens want to ensure that the tradition continues. Their questions should be addressed in open forums. The School Board has a job to do.