In a bid to help move forward from the scandal engulfing his governorship, Virginia's Bob McDonnell announced Tuesday that he has repaid more than $124,115.17 worth of loans to Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. The loans—which were given to the governor, his wife, and his sister—have threatened to cut short the remainder of McDonnell's term and seriously taint his legacy. In a statement, McDonnell said that he is "deeply sorry for the embarrassment certain members of my family and I brought upon my beloved Virginia and her citizens."
A quick recap: The loans were a part of the $145,000 in financial assistance McDonnell's family and corporation have received from Williams. The assistance and gifts include $15,000 in catering for the governor's daughter's wedding in June 2011, a $6,500 Rolex, and a variety of airfare expenses.
Under current Virginia law, there is no limit to the value of gifts the governor can accept, but any gifts worth more than $50 must be disclosed. Family members are exempt from disclosure. McDonnell is currently under investigation over whether he or his family used the governor's office to help Star Scientific in exchange for assistance. It does look, however, like these laws will soon be changed, regardless of who wins the upcoming gubernatorial election.
While the McDonnell family faced financial trouble after the recession and the collapse of the real-estate market, McDonnell is one of the highest paid governors in the country. The average annual gubernatorial salary nationwide for 2013 was $133,348. In Virginia, the salary is $175,000. But the loan repayment is still a seriously big deal: All together, it consists of about 71 percent of McDonnell's gross annual salary.
There is some reason to think the governor can still salvage something politically. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that McDonnell's job approval had hit a new low of 46 percent. That's not nearly as bad as that of Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett, who had 38-percent approval in an April Qunnipiac poll. Or Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, who in April had a 38-percent approval rating, according to Southern Media and Opinion Research. Or Maine's Paul LePage, who had a 39-percent approval rating in a January PPP poll. And that's to say nothing of Illinois' Pat Quinn, who had a 25-percent job-approval rating late last year.
No question, these are hard times for McDonnell. And they largely seem to be of his own making. But, judging by his relative popularity, there are worse places from which to search for political redemption.