In the frenzied final days of Virginia’s 37th District Senate race I picked up and posted a story about a supposedly questionable real estate deal in which Ken Cuccinelli had allegedly been involved. At the time I took the position that Ken had a reputation for integrity but since this looked bad, he should explain it to his constituents. And along with some other bloggers I wondered why nobody from the mainstream media had picked up these allegations to investigate them.
Last Wednesday I found out.
That evening I spoke with Ken Cuccinelli, who called me to explain it. He made clear that he was doing so only because I was his constituent and he told me to feel free to use it on my blog or not, it was my decision. He personally was not inclined to answer what he felt was more a campaign dirty trick than a substantive charge. I think he was right. For myself, I just ran with the story rather than checking it out. I put the onus on him to answer it. A good journalist doesn’t do that and I knew better. Before you print an allegation like that, you call and get the subject’s explanation. If the person declines to talk to you, you put that in your article. I’ve criticized other journalists for failing to that. It’s basic good reporting and is a journalistic fundamental.
But I also tried to have it both ways. After all, I’m not a journalist. I’m an amateur with a day job so I simply put the story out with a disclaimer that I gave him the benefit of the doubt but it was up to Ken to answer the charge.
It’s up to the person writing the piece to pick up the phone. I didn’t do that. Ken, who had every right to be annoyed, however, was the one who did exactly that.
So, I feel I owe it to him and his reputation to follow up and write what I now know and especially to inform my readers that he indeed answered my questions.
Frankly, I’m going to keep the explanation to the bare bones. I don’t want to rehash it or give it a new life. So, here’s the take home version:
Ken had a client whose family had been feuding for years. The client’s mother and sister were not speaking and the sister wanted to sell her one-third of a family home back to the mother. Ken was asked, as an attorney, to make a third party purchase. He bought the one-third interest in the property and four days later sold it to the mother. He was not a beneficiary and received no consideration. He was a nominee, or stand in, for the transaction. That’s why he legally was not obligated to pay a grantor’s tax. It’s also why he had nothing to declare from the purchase on his disclosure forms.
If he earned anything, it was in his capacity as an attorney for his law firm. Transactions like these are not unusual. They are employed routinely when families can’t get along and need to settle estate disputes and transfer property from one party to another.
In addition, the lobbyist client was somebody whom Ken had known previous to his becoming a state senator. In fact, he was introduced to that person by a law professor in college.
Finally, the media did follow up on the story. Four or five reporters, including one from WTOP and one from the Examiner, called Ken the next day and followed up on his account. The reason you neither read nor heard anything about it is because after those journalists did the research they found they had nothing to write about. There was no “there” there.