- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2016

PHILADELPHIA | The approximately $160,000 in gifts Sen. Tim Kaine accepted as governor and lieutenant governor of Virginia is getting renewed scrutiny with Mr. Kaine in line to potentially become the next vice president, with critics quick to draw comparisons to the federal corruption case of former Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The disclosures include about $45,000 in travel and lodging reimbursements from President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), a nonpartisan tracker of money in Virginia politics. Mr. Kaine was a key surrogate for Mr. Obama eight years ago, and he ended up in the vice presidential discussion in that election as well.

Mr. Kaine also disclosed about $20,000 in reimbursements for things such as travel and lodging from his own political action committee, Moving Virginia Forward. He reported an $18,000 gift for the use of a Caribbean vacation home, as well as 2006 Final Four basketball tickets.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has hammered Mr. Kaine over the gifts in recent days.

“Well, first of all, he took over $160,000 of gifts,” Mr. Trump said earlier this week on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And they said, ‘Well, they weren’t really gifts, they were suits and trips and lots of different things,’ all for $160,000.

“And I think, to me, it’s a big problem,” Mr. Trump said. “Now how do you take all these gifts? Hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Some delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia said such criticism is rich coming from Mr. Trump, the billionaire real estate mogul.

“He has screwed over so many workers and employees in his businesses, contractors,” Luke Lundemo, a Bernard Sanders delegate from Mississippi, said of Mr. Trump. “It’s not credible for him to talk about money issues for anybody.”

Julie Perry, a delegate from Kansas who’s part of the pro-Sanders National Nurses United union, said that, in general, there’s too much big money in politics. But she also said she hadn’t heard anything about the gifts and didn’t think she needed to.

“I would have to say that that’s pretty stinkin’ hilarious for Donald Trump to be saying, since he’s often been the one giving money to politicians,” she said. “That’s like the person causing the infection complaining about getting sick.”

Mr. Trump is painting Hillary Clinton’s selecting Mr. Kaine as her running mate as a betrayal to liberals like Mr. Sanders. The gifts could also play into a GOP narrative that Mrs. Clinton is the “secretary of status quo,” as GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence put it, who is resisting a major break from politics as usual.

Mr. Kaine’s office has said in recent weeks that the senator went above and beyond in his disclosures and that there was nothing untoward.

“During his eight years as lieutenant governor and governor, Sen. Kaine went beyond the requirements of Virginia law, even publicly disclosing gifts of value beneath the reporting threshold,” a spokesperson told Politico. “He’s confident that he met both the letter and the spirit of Virginia’s ethical standards.”

Mr. Trump said Mr. McDonnell, the former Republican governor, took a “fraction” of what Mr. Kaine did. In 2014 a federal jury in Virginia found Mr. McDonnell guilty of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans for him and his family from a wealthy businessman in exchange for helping promote the business interests of Jonnie R. Williams Sr. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

But last month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision to vacate Mr. McDonnell’s convictions. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. acknowledged the case was “distasteful,” but wrote that the court was concerned about broader legal implications of the government’s “boundless interpretation” of the federal bribery statute.

State Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen, who called on Mr. McDonnell to resign or explain the gifts as news of Mr. McDonnell’s relationship with Mr. Williams began to surface, said some of the trips one might find on Mr. Kaine’s disclosure forms might not be allowed to such an extent under the new rules, or at least could require pre-clearance from an ethics council.

“It’s not to say that what he did was unusual. It’s just we’ve become a lot stricter in what we allow people to do in the post-McDonnell era,” said Mr. Petersen, Fairfax Democrat. “If people had a problem with him taking a particular gift or taking a trip on somebody’s nickel, it’s out there on the state website for everybody to see.”

In recent years, lawmakers have passed a $100-per-year cap on gifts from lobbyists or people tied to business in the state. Gov. Terry McAuliffe, one of Mrs. Clinton’s top surrogates, also signed an executive order imposing a similar gift cap on himself, his family and members of the executive branch upon taking office in January 2014.

But individuals can still make unlimited contributions to political campaigns for statewide office in Virginia. Mr. Trump, for example, gave $25,000 to Mr. McDonnell’s 2009 campaign and $25,000 to Mr. McAuliffe’s unsuccessful 2009 gubernatorial campaign.

Campaign finance limits for federal offices in the state are governed by the Federal Election Commission, which limits direct contributions to $2,700 for individuals.

Political observers across the spectrum have said, if nothing else, Mr. McDonnell’s case illustrated just how much lawmakers could conceivably accept under the state’s lax financial reporting and disclosure laws. Mr. McDonnell was not charged with breaking any state law but on charges tied to federal bribery rules.

“McDonnell’s gifts, as Kaine’s, are all legal under Virginia law,” said former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican who represented Northern Virginia in Congress. “The Democrats like to say, well, Kaine disclosed them. They didn’t charge McDonnell with not disclosing them.

“The real question comes down to quid pro quo, and the Supreme Court said they couldn’t prove a quid pro quo based on what the jury instructions had said,” Mr. Davis said.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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