- - Thursday, May 26, 2016

There must be something in the water. Governors and other high officials in Virginia once enjoyed a sterling reputation among honorable public servants. Governors in Illinois established a colorful tradition of moving directly from the governor’s mansion to a cell in a federal prison. But until the federal prosecutors moved on Bob McDonnell, a Republican governor for “public corruption,” that sort of thing just didn’t happen in the land of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Robert E. Lee. A good reputation was its own reward.

But the times, they are a-changing. Now it’s a Democratic governor who’s being hotly pursued by federal prosecutors. The Old Dominion, which had nothing but good marks in the not so distant past, seems about to become the Illinois of the East. The naughty governors want free stuff, too. Gov. Terry McAuliffe is, truth to tell, not really a Virginian, and not really so much a governor as a Democratic fundraiser and dealmaker (often in his own behalf).

Mr. McAuliffe, elected in 2013, ran for governor to be in a position to deliver Virginia’s electoral votes to Hillary Clinton this fall. He knows how to open the taps, and campaign money poured into Virginia from Clinton loyalists everywhere, and a splintered Virginia Republican Party enabled Mr. McAuliffe to defeat Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli in 2013, and not by much.

He has done his job as Mr. Fix-it, notably the wholesale enfranchising of 200,000 felons, who are expected to rally to Hillary with their votes in November.

Questions abound about the overreach of the “public corruption” laws that ensnared the two men, and Mr. McDonnell’s lawyers have appealed his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court. Partisan or not, Mr. McAuliffe is rooting for Bob McDonnell to win his appeal because if he does it will be difficult for the federal prosecutors to convict him of similar “public corruption.”

When the news leaked that the FBI is investigating Gov. McAuliffe’s ties to a Chinese businessman whose New Jersey company contributed to his campaigns, the governor was “shocked,” though he said he didn’t know the man. He later conceded that his statement might no longer be operative, and on reflection he remembered that maybe he had met with Wang Wenliang. He was a member of the Peoples Assembly in Beijing who, though a prominent member of the Chinese government was also a permanent resident of the United States.

Mr. Wang said after that meeting he contributed $60,000 to the McAuliffe campaign, and three weeks after that Mr. Wang accompanied the governor to a Clinton Foundation fundraiser at Bill Clinton’s home in New York, where he pledged a million dollars to the Clintons’ foundation. He said he ultimately contributed $120,000 to the McAuliffe campaign through a New Jersey company he controls.

Well, we’re all a little forgetful a times, but most of us can remember someone who gives us $120,000, and pledges to give a million dollars to his dear friends. Someone who forgets something like that is either a liar or should find a new home with assisted living. He should see a doctor, too, because that’s short-term memory failure writ large, indeed.

Mr. Wang’s lawyers argue that if it’s legal for a permanent resident to make gifts like that, a contribution from a corporation should be, too. That’s something for the courts to determine, but what the FBI wants to know is whether the governor did any official favors for the generous friend he can’t remember. Bob McDonnell could tell him that such an exchange is not wise, governor or not. Virginia deserves better, and Virginia’s voters should be more careful in choosing on whom to bestow the state’s highest honor.

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