Virginia Gov. Robert R. McDonnell speaks at the Bloomberg Link Economic… (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg )
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell welcomed the nation’s governors to Williamsburg for the annual meeting of the National Governors Association last July.
At the historic executive mansion in Richmond, McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, hosted a lunch for the governors’ spouses. To welcome the crowd to Virginia, Maureen McDonnell distributed a gift bag with unique products from around the state, such as a wine coaster and stopper from a Colonial Williamsburg silver shop and a champagne flute from the Trump Winery in Charlottesville.
Also included in the gift bags were samples of Anatabloc, a dietary supplement containing a chemical found in tobacco that is manufactured by Star Scientific, the company whose chief executive paid the $15,000 catering bill at the wedding of the McDonnells’ daughter and whose ties with the first family are now the subject of an FBI inquiry.
As the FBI and the Virginia State Police try to determine whether the Republican governor improperly helped Star or its chief executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., in exchange for the catering or other gifts, details of the first family’s relationship with the company continue to emerge.
The inclusion of Anatabloc in the gift bags offers a new example of the McDonnells’ work to promote the company, which took place as Star and its chief executive provided more than $120,000 in publicly disclosed gifts and campaign donations to McDonnell, his campaign and his political action committee.
In addition, documents newly obtained by The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act also show that Maureen McDonnell was in close contact with Williams in 2011 and 2012.
She frequently invited Williams to charitable and political events, including a 2011 fundraising reception with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Last year, Williams suggested a long list of Richmond-area doctors who he thought should be included at an event at the governor’s mansion bringing together health-care leaders and state lawmakers. More than half made the list of invitees.
McDonnell said recently that Star Scientific has received no preferential treatment from state officials, noting that the company has not received state economic incentives or financial grants during his time in office.
“I think it’s important for the people of Virginia to know nothing has been done with regard to my relationship with Mr. Williams or his company, Star Scientific, to give any kind of special benefits to him or his company,” he said on WTOP radio’s “Ask the Governor” program.
Williams’s lawyer, Jerry Kilgore, declined to comment.
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said the Anatabloc samples were included in the gift bags to represent one of Maureen McDonnell’s focus areas as first lady — “preventative health care and wellness.” He also noted that the company is headquartered in Glen Allen, near Richmond.
Martin did not respond to a question about who paid for the Anatabloc samples.
The other gifts represented her attempts to promote the Virginia wine industry, the spokesman said.
McDonnell has said Williams is a friend who paid for the wedding food as a gift to his daughter. McDonnell did not disclose the gift, citing Virginia law that requires only elected officials and not members of their immediate families to annually disclose gifts.
McDonnell has not answered questions about whether Williams provided members of his family with any other gifts. People familiar with the FBI and state police interviews have said investigators are asking questions about the wedding but are also interested in other gifts Williams provided to Maureen McDonnell.
Some of the couples’ other efforts to promote the company are already known. Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida three days before her daughter’s 2011 wedding, where she spoke at a gathering of doctors and investors interested in learning more about anatabine, the key chemical found in Anatabloc.
In a brief speech, attendees said, she told the crowd that she supported the product and believed it could be used to lower health-care costs in Virginia.
In August 2011, the governor and first lady attended a luncheon at the executive mansion that marked the formal launch of Anatabloc, an anti-inflammatory dietary supplement that does not require approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Star Scientific, a former tobacco company, later began selling a skin-cream version of the supplement as well as tablets.
McDonnell’s spokesman has said the mansion event was hosted by the first lady and paid for by the governor’s political action committee. The spokesman said the governor stopped by to acknowledge research grants Star Scientific was awarding to public medical schools.
A picture of McDonnell holding up a package of Anatabloc was featured on the product’s Facebook page. The spokesman has said its use was unauthorized, and it has been removed.