Gov. Robert F. McDonnell speaks at the Bloomberg Link Economic Summit in… (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg )
RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, have used taxpayer money for a range of small personal items they should have paid for themselves under state policy, according to spending records.
The McDonnells have billed the state for body wash, sunscreen, dog vitamins and a digestive system “detox cleanse,” the records show. They also have used state employees to run personal errands for their adult children. In the middle of a workday, for example, a staffer retrieved Rachel McDonnell’s newly hemmed pants at a tailoring shop nine miles from the governor’s mansion. Another time, a state worker was dispatched to a dry cleaner 20 miles away to pick up a storage box for Cailin McDonnell’s wedding dress.
About six months into the governor’s term, the official who oversees mansion spending told the McDonnells that they should not have charged taxpayers for a number of expenses, including deodorant, shoe repairs and dry-cleaning their children’s clothing. The official asked the McDonnells to pay the state back more than $300, which they did, and also gave them a refresher on what the state will and won’t provide for occupants of the governor’s mansion.
But since that time, state records show that the McDonnells have continued to let taxpayers pick up the tab for numerous personal items, including vitamins, nasal spray and sleep-inducing elixirs.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, The Washington Post sought records of personal expenses covered by the state over the couple’s 31/2 years in the mansion. The full cost of those items is unknown because the state released only 16 sales receipts, most of them from 2011. State records show that there were many more personal shopping trips — nine others in January 2011 alone, including two to Bed Bath & Beyond to pick up “college stuff” for the McDonnells’ children.
The McDonnells repaid the state for at least some personal items purchased on those occasions. But without receipts, it is impossible to know whether they fully reimbursed taxpayers. The few receipts that were released show only partial repayment.
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin declined to say why other receipts were not released.
Based on the disclosed records, the amount of personal expenses the McDonnells billed to the state is small — less than $600, including the $300 they repaid. But the disclosure comes at time when spending at Virginia’s Executive Mansion is already under scrutiny.
The FBI and a federal grand jury are investigating the $15,000 catering tab at Cailin McDonnell’s mansion wedding in June 2011 that was paid by a McDonnell campaign donor. That same donor, Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr., also lent the governor his Ferrari, lakeside vacation home and private jet. A Richmond prosecutor also is investigating whether the governor violated state gift disclosure laws.
Emerging as the former mansion chef faces charges of stealing food from the kitchen, the McDonnells’ expense records provide some insight into how the executive home has been managed. The chef has alleged that the McDonnells — already entitled to a free mansion, food, personal chef, maids and one of nation’s few state-funded butlers — have engaged in petty pilfering.
In court filings submitted as part of his defense, chef Todd Schneider has said that the McDonnells’ five children raided the mansion kitchen and liquor cabinet, taking large quantities of food and alcohol to their own homes or college dorm rooms. He also said that Maureen McDonnell had given away mansion pots and pans to her three daughters. McDonnell has declined to respond to those accusations, noting the ongoing criminal case against the chef.
Martin said the McDonnells have sought to properly distinguish personal expenses from state ones while living in the mansion, a 200-year-old Federal-style gem that is a public building and a private residence.
“Every Administration strives to balance private family life with the official state functions that are all occurring under the same roof, at the same time,” Martin said in an e-mail. “It is a balance and there is a constant effort to ensure that it is appropriately managed. The McDonnell Administration has adhered to precedent in reimbursing the state for items meant for personal use.”
In the McDonnell family’s first six months in the mansion, taxpayers paid for dry-cleaning the twin sons’ suits and shirts, repairing the first lady’s shoes and putting new shoulder pads into an item of her clothing. The McDonnells billed their energy drinks, body wash, deodorant and breath-freshening strips to the state as well.