Fact-Checking Donald Trump's Claims About Democratic VP Pick Tim Kaine's Gifts
Trump assailed Hillary Clinton's running mate on Sunday.
— -- Donald Trump assailed Hillary Clinton's running mate Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., for allegedly accepting thousands of dollars of gifts while serving in the Virginia statehouse, suggesting there was a double standard for former Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was prosecuted for his acceptance of gifts while in office.
Trump claimed Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that McDonnell “took a fraction of what Kaine took.”
But McDonnell came under scrutiny not because he accepted gifts or because he failed to disclose a significant portion of them but rather, prosecutors asserted, because he and his wife gave official preferential treatment for more than $175,000 from one gift giver.
And Trump’s claim that Kaine took more than McDonnell is flat-out wrong — something proved by checking Virginia’s public records.
Kaine and McDonnell both accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts while serving in the Virginia statehouse. Kaine received over $160,000 in gifts from 2001 to 2009 — the largest percentage of which were travel to and from political events. Kaine accepted some travel from companies that were lobbying the state, but such gifts were legal at the time.
His disclosures included the free use of a vacation home on the island of Mustique in 2005 — which Kaine’s staff valued at $18,000 — and more than $6,000 in clothing from menswear executive Stuart Siegel.
Trump alluded to those gifts when he criticized Kaine over the weekend.
“He took over $160,000 of gifts. And they said, well, they weren’t really gifts. They were suits and trips and lots of different things,” he said.
Kaine’s office told ABC News last month that not only were all his gifts legal but also he disclosed even those valued for less than $50, the minimum reporting requirement for officials at the time, like a “framed photograph of [a] sunset,” and a book, “Telling Tales.”
“Sen. Kaine went beyond the requirements of Virginia law, even publicly disclosing gifts of value beneath the reporting threshold. He’s confident that he met both the letter and the spirit of Virginia’s ethical standards,” his office said in a statement.
The Virginia disclosure laws applying to Kaine and McDonnell were relatively lax. Until 2014, there was no limit on the amount of money lobbyists could give to public officials, nor were there any rules governing the disclosure of gifts to officials’ immediate family members.
Like Kaine, McDonnell disclosed hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts he received while serving as the attorney general or governor. He received over $275,000 from 2006 to 2014 — more than Kaine received while serving as lieutenant governor and then governor, which contradicts Trump’s claim.
In addition to those gifts, McDonnell and his family accepted more than $175,000 in undisclosed gifts from businessman Jonnie R. Williams, including a $15,000 catering payment at McDonnell’s daughter’s wedding; an almost $20,000 shopping spree for McDonnell’s wife, Maureen McDonnell; a Rolex watch; multiple golf outings for the family; and $70,000 in loans to a real estate company co-owned by Bob McDonnell and his sister.
Bob McDonnell was not prosecuted for his failure to disclose these gifts, given that at the time Virginia law did not require his wife and children to disclose gifts to them — though prosecutors debated whether it was fair to say gifts such as the wedding payment did not directly benefit him.
Rather, Bob and Maureen McDonnell were charged in federal district court with 14 counts of public corruption because, prosecutors argued, they gave Williams unique preferential treatment in the statehouse in exchange for his gifts — for example, arranging meetings for and attending events with him to promote a dietary supplement that his company made.
The case, in which McDonnell was found guilty of 11 charges and his wife of eight, eventually reached the Supreme Court, where it was overturned, with Chief Justice John Roberts arguing that the McDonnells’ actions did not meet the definition of corruption.
“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes and ball gowns,” Roberts wrote in the court’s decision on the case. “It is instead with the broader legal implications of the government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.”
Virginia tightened its public disclosure laws after the McDonnell episode, requiring in 2014 that officials disclose gifts to their immediate family members and the following year limiting the annual amount of money lobbyists may give public officials to $100.
But critics say the new laws still don’t do enough to stop corruption in Virginia. In a 2015 summary, the Center for Public Integritynoted, among other critiques, that the cap applies only to lobbyists and people pursuing business with the state, with the second category open to interpretation. The law exempts payments related to meetings of national groups, which could still count for a significant portion of gifts to public officials.
“While the new law will make it harder for people seeking influence to lavish officials with expensive gifts, there are still opportunities,” the center said.
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