Friday, October 26, 2007

Does The Cooch Have an Ethics Problem?

Raising Kaine has run two disturbing stories over as many days about some highly unusual real estate dealings that state Senator Ken Cuccinelli has had with a lobbyist for, and officer in, an organization called the American Coalition for Fathers and Children (ACFC). The stories also detail allegations of tax evasion on Ken’s part.

These allegations were uncovered not by Ken’s opponent, Janet Oleszek, but by Democratic candidate for Clerk of the Courts, Dale Evans. Evans went public with his charges to highlight the fact that current Republican Clerk of the Courts, John Frey, has not exercised due diligence on his job and has allowed some highly questionable deals to be registered without questioning their legality. Here’s what Evans had to say about his accusations:
This is an important issue, not only for voters in Senator Cuccinelli's District, but in all of Fairfax County. I am concerned that this highly unusual deal was allowed to pass unchecked through the Clerk's office. As a citizen and a taxpayer, it makes me wonder how many other potentially shady deals have gone unnoticed, and how much higher my taxes are because the Clerk is not making sure that everyone - his good friends in particular (see below) - is playing by the rules.

I am running for Clerk of Court because I am tired of the complacency which has plagued this office for the last sixteen years. My opponent's response to this shady dealing is that years ago, he received an AG's opinion saying that he could not closely inspect the documents that pass through his office. I wish that I found his complacency in failing to address that situation surprising, but it seems to be the hallmark of his tenure.

As the next Fairfax Clerk, I will push for legislation to change that policy, after which all transactions involving my friends, family, donors, or fellow elected officials will be flagged to ensure that the citizens of Fairfax never have to worry about political favoritism in my office.

The least of the charges, concerning Ken, is that he failed to pay a grantor’s tax for purchasing some property from Miller. That’s the part that especially pertains to Frey’s failure to be vigilant about this transaction. But there’s more that makes Ken look really, really bad. Lowell has the story in greater detail, including a time line of this rather odd transaction:
*January 2005: Ken Cuccinelli sponsors a bill about visitation rights, touted by Fathers for Virginia as a means "of countering no fault divorce." Cooch is one of only 5 votes for the bill, which fails 5-10 in committee.
*February 2005: Stuart Miller's boss at ACFC, Stephen Baskerville, praises Cuccinelli for his work sponsoring a bill for "no fault divorce" and specifically thanking him for his work along with Ron Grignol (Mark Sickles' '05 opponent and Patricia Phillips (Mark Herring's '07 opponent).

*March 2005: ACFC President Stephen Baskerville again praises Cuccinelli's bill, claiming that it will "give Virginia the strongest family protection provisions in the Western world."

*December 2005: According to Fairfax County Land Records, Cuccinelli buys a 1/3 interest in a Stuart Miller's mother's house from sister for $160K and transfers that 1/3rd interest to Miller's Mother's trust in exchange a $185,000 1-year promissory note at 10.25% interest secured against the ACFC's lobbyists's mother's house - folks that's interest of almost $19,000 per year - netting him a profit of $25K to $40K+ depending on when the note got paid - he signs a deed claiming he doesn't have to pay the Grantor's Tax by certifying he was a beneficiary of the Miller trust and that he received no consideration (he must have forgot about that $185K note referenced in the land records).

*January 2006: VPAP says Cuccinelli files an economic disclosure failing to list any interest in the house, the note, or any income earned from outside his firm and sponsors yet another bill on child custody (does anyone have the paper copy of these disclosures? I can only find VPAP's summary.).

*March 2006: The Miller property is sold for $600,000, according to land records and tax records.

*January 2007: VPAP says Cuccinelli files another economic disclosure failing to list any interest in the house, the note, or any income earned from outside his firm.

*June 21, 2007, Susan Miller donates $500 to Ken Cuccinelli's campaign (the Trustee of her Trust was Stuart Miller). This is the first donation Cuccinelli received "from her" (depending on what the profit he made on her house was).

Now this is especially troubling to me. For all that I disagree with Ken Cuccinelli on the issues, I’ve always assumed that he was basically a decent and honorable guy. I thought you couldn’t fault his integrity. Indeed, all those moderate and centrist newspapers that have endorsed him for re-election have made basically the same point, that even though he was out of step with his district ideologically, he was honest.

So it bothers me that all of our assumptions about him might have been wrong. Indeed, I hereby invite Ken to answer these charges here, if he’d like, or on any other blog or website where he’d be more comfortable. But answer them he should because the voters of the 37th district deserve to know the whole story. And, yes, that includes his side of it.


AnonymousIsAWoman said...

It further troubles me that no newspaper has investigated these allegations.

Why especially is it that the Washington Post can spend days reporting on Jim Moran's every controversial utterance and investigating every charge, no matter how trivial, yet when allegations of real, possible wrongdoing and corruption surface against a Republican, they remain silent?

Bwana said...

Why don't you ping SenKen himself? He seems to welcome interaction with bloggers, and loves to engage in intellectual give and take.

If you do I have a hunch he will tell you he has been contacted by the major outlets and has explained the legalities of the situation to their satisfaction...otherwise I imagine this would be in the papers.

I think something that needs to be factored into this is that the person raising the issue (although amplified by others) is Dale Evans, who is desperate for an issue...and I could not help but notice that while Evans poses questions, he doesn't specifically say that Cuccinelli did anything illegal.

I think the fact Evans keeps on refering to "questionable" transactions means he knows he has nothing and is trying to create some late season noise.

At the risk of sounding like a Cooch apologist, if Evans thinks Cooch broke the law, then he should say so and show the proof and explain why it is illegal.

The problem as I see it is that wills, trusts, and estates have very specific language with very specific definitions. If Evans wants to ping Cooch and Frey, he needs to specifically show say:

a) they broke the law, and here is why...complete with explanations of legal definitions. He might even try a press conference in front of Cuccinelli's HQ. ;-)

b) If this was a matter of misfeasance or malfeasance, then he should also be saying why this should be a red flagged transaction. The fact that it seems odd and complicated to the layman does not mean it is odd and complicated to the legal profession.

Let's consider the timeline for a moment...the Cooch story hit prior to the JMDD incident, and it still hasn't hit the papers. I have a hunch if there was something truly wrong here, it would have made the papers.

Then again, that is just my $.02

AnonymousIsAWoman said...


You are always entitled to your 2 cents here. And you raise some good points.

I don't know how to "ping" SenKen but he is certainly entitled to tell his side of the story. I'd certainly welcome it.

I disagree with him on the issues and am happy to write posts that strongly object to his policy positions. But I'd be happy to know that there is no basis to this story if that is the truth.

I've always said I like him personally, which is true. And I've always believed him to be honest.

So, you are certainly welcome to be an apologist or to point out some other points for us to consider.

Thank you.

Brian Kirwin said...

Gosh. Launch a story before knowing the facts. Don't even bother to check if it's true.

And you try to be the ethics cop?

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Brian, first of all, I'm not the ethics cop. Second, I was not the one complaining about negative ads. I've always said they are fair game. There is a vast difference between attacking a candidate's performance, ethics, or policy positions and printing an inflammatory ad and including his address and phone number. And circling it in red with a red arrow pointing to it.

I'd be equally outraged if a Democrat did that to a Republican and the fact that winning means more than speaking out about something like that, frankly makes me worry about Republicans and what this country is coming to.

Further, I picked up charges about Sen. Cuccinelli that were already out there and raised questions. Those questions involve the ethics of a sitting senator, which is also fair game.

Further, I invited Ken to answer them. I'd print his side of it in a minute if chose to respond. I also always said I like him and don't want to believe this is true, or if it is, that there is an explanation for it.

But accusations like this do deserve to be answered. Elected officials are held to a higher standard than ordinary citizens. Those standards include avoiding even the appearance of wrongdoing.

So, if a reasonable person could conclude that something was amiss, yes, he should probably answer his accuser. I hope he does so, wherever he chooses to do it.

Brian Kirwin said...

negative politics.

Your multi-paragraph defense comes down to nothing more than that.

For all the bloggers who say campaigns should be about issues, your last few posts are a hearty diversion.

Bwana said...

I tried to post last night, and fat fingered the thing, so let me summarize...

As a constituent, I imagine you can ping, call, or contact Cuccinelli by calling his senate constituent office or his campaign office.

Given that I am not excusing anything done, I hardly see how that makes me an apologist. What I am saying is that at the moment there is no proof or claim he has done anything wrong.

We have a claim by a desperate candidate (Evans) and a complete Dem partisan (Lowell) that something is going on. That hardly constitues something a candidate is going to respond to, especially...

...when you consider that Evans in his live blog specifically said that he did not think Frey did anything illegal, and Evans did not suggest Cuccinelli has done anything illegal. Moreover, Oleszek has not accused Cuccinelli to date of doing anything illegal.

Frankly, and tactically speaking, if he believes the transaction was above board, he would be foolish to respond to this stuff. He well knows that whatever he says that Lowell and other folks that want him gone will dismiss his claim by one means or another, and potentially create an issue where none exists.

If the opposing candidates are not accusing Cooch of anything, it is unlikely the MSM will pick it up. Note they did not pick up the JMDD-Chap! mess until Chap! had his press conference.

Why doesn't the MSM pick it up themselves? Perhaps because their legal departments have looked at the evidence Evans and Lowell trumpted and decided the transaction-while unusual looking to the layman-is legal.

As far as Cuccinelli not getting back to you on your offer, that doesn't surprise you, does it? Regardless of who you are backing, your invitation is within the body of a post with a title that is in the same league as "when did you stop beating your wife?". That suggests a trifle bit of prejudging, on matter whether you are in the ethics police or not.

If you want to whack on Cuccinelli for sponsoring legislation favored by some nutjob, go ahead...but I tend to think there were other folks, much more respectable, who also pushed that legislation...just as I imagine all sorts of legislation goes in that are supported by both the pure of heart and those that are less so.

Now you can claim my comment above is somehow apologetic...but I suggest that what it actually constitutes is a fairly reasonable view of what is going on and will continue to go on both from a tactical and practical political POV.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Bwana, I didn't mean to call you an apologist. I simply thought, from what you said, that you were calling yourself that. By the way, it's not necessarily a bad thing. The term just means a defender. For example, C.S. Lewis was referred to as an apologist for the Christian faith. It was not meant in a perjorative way at all. It meant he defended the faith in debates, essays, and books.

Other than that, you raise some good points.

There could be a lot of reasons why the MSM hasn't been on this. Certainly, you're right that they might have already looked into it and found there is no there, there. In other words, there may be no wrongdoing at all.

However, I don't necessarily trust them to do their due diligence in reporting. As an example, in the JMDD-Chap Petersen mess, I think the Washington Post deliberately buried the story as far back in the paper as they could. If the incident hadn't been reported so widely elsewhere, I have no doubt they would have happily ignored it. It's possible that Ken gets a pass too because he is personally well-liked.

Or, in this particular case, it could be that there is nothing illegal there. I'm not an investigative reporter so I'm not pursuing it. I don't have any intention of writing any more on it, in fact, unless some hard facts are uncovered that are picked up and credibly verified elsewhere.