In search of the McDonnell doctrine


O.K., so Virginia may not have been founded as an overflow saucer for English debt prisons (unlike certain peach-lovin’ southern neighbors we could name), but we’ve certainly had our share of miscreants and malefactors over the long history of the Commonwealth. And while things aren’t nearly as bad as they could be (this year’s blockbuster beach read, “Crime In Virginia” by the Virginia State Police, reports that violent crimes in 2009 were down almost 10 percent from 2008), just one glance at the daily headlines shows that the bad folks are still out there.

Denied a transfer to Germany by Governor Bob McDonnell, convicted murderer and former UVA student Jens Soering, shown here in 2003, seems destined to remain in a Virginia prison. Can McDonnell help crack down on shadowy veterans organizations as well?

Unfortunately, there’s simply no way to stop every horrible crime before it happens. (Until the State Police finally get their long-awaited Precrime Division up and running, that is.) Which is why every new administration has to wrestle with just what level of law-and-order activity it wants to pursue.

So far, it’s been hard to get a good read on Governor Bob McDonnell’s incarceration-related inclinations. On the one hand, he’s performed some standard-issue Republican tough-on-crime jujitsu: He put the kibosh on Tim Kaine’s plan to transfer UVA double-murderer Jens Soering back to his native Germany, started (and then quickly stopped) insisting that felons pass an essay test to regain suffrage, and refused to grant clemency to convicted killer Darick Walker, who was put to death last Thursday.

On the flip side, McDonnell has also shown a surprising interest in subjects that most Republicans regard as squishy liberal claptrap: rehabilitation and prisoners’ rights. Not only did he announce a prisoner re-entry program to help ex-cons acclimate to the outside world, but he also recently signed a bill mandating that juveniles awaiting trial cannot be housed in adult correctional facilities.

Ironically, the first real test of McDonnell’s indistinct crime-fighting philosophy looks to come from an unlikely location: the office of his own attorney general. Yes, once again Ken Cuccinelli has managed to land smack dab in the middle of everything. (He’s like the Spam of Virginia politics!) Here’s the problem: It seems that the Cooch’s second biggest individual campaign donor last year was one Bobby Thompson, a sketchy Florida fundraiser whose charity—the U.S. Navy Veterans Association—is almost certainly a massive scam. As revealed by the St. Petersburg Times, every single military officer associated with USNVA appears to be fictional, its offices are actually a rented PO box, and the $22.4 million it raised is now nowhere to be found. Thompson, to nobody’s surprise, has completely disappeared.

Now, it wouldn’t be a big deal if Cuccinelli would just return the $55,000 he got from Thompson; McDonnell was quick to donate the $5,000 he received to charity. But as of this writing he’s refused. (“We don’t assume someone is guilty based on circumstances that are out of the ordinary,” he told the Roanoke Times.) And not only is he keeping the cash, but so far he’s shown little interest in pursuing any sort of criminal investigation into USNVA.

O.K., Governor McDonnell, getting tough with convicted murders is an easy call—but what do you do when your own AG is hoarding tainted money and refusing to do the one thing he’s paid to do?

Sometimes this job is harder than it looks, eh guv’ner?