Cuccinelli, Thompson & Consumer Affairs

Brent Finnegan -- June 25th, 2010

The race for Virginia Attorney General may have ended November 3, 2009 with a decisive GOP victory, but this week, former Democratic Party AG candidate Steve Shannon is taking Republican AG Ken Cuccinelli to task for $55,500 in campaign contributions Cuccinelli received from Bobby Thompson, director of the Florida-based U.S. Navy Veterans Association (USNVA).

BACKGROUND: Thompson’s organization has come under intense scrutiny after allegations that the nonprofit might not be doing what they claim to be doing: raising money to help veterans. “In a six-month investigation, the St. Petersburg Times could find only one officer in the entire organization, and the nonprofit declined to reveal where its millions of dollars of income went.”

USNVA has also been the subject of an investigation by the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs (which is under the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services). In March 2009, the Office of Consumer Affairs revoked a registration exemption for USNVA to solicit donations via telemarketing operations. But they will likely have their exemption re-instated next week. The Roanoke Times explains:

Last year in Virginia, Thompson gave $55,500 to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and $5,000 McDonnell. He gave smaller amounts to four legislators, including $1,000 to Sen. Patsy Ticer, D-Alexandria, who sponsored the bill to create the exemption sought by U.S. Navy Vets.

Ticer, who said she believed the U.S. Navy Vets to be a legitimate veterans group, tried to get her own bill vetoed after learning about the St. Petersburg Times stories. But McDonnell signed the measure before his staff could alert him of Ticer’s concerns, his staff has said.

State officials acknowledge that U.S. Navy Vets likely will receive an exemption after the law takes effect July 1.

This week Shannon wrote a column published in the Virginian-Pilot which questions Cuccinelli’s sequence of events, as well a state commissioner appointment that followed. The Washington Post Virginia Politics blog reports:

Cuccinelli has said that Thompson’s first check arrived without any solicitation. He later called Thompson and asked if the Florida man could donate more. Thompson then donated $50,000 to Cuccinelli’s effort. Shannon points out that Cuccinelli three weeks later held a press conference to reiterate his call for the Office of Consumer Services to be moved into the attorney general’s office.

Was Thompson’s personal donations and his group’s ongoing conflict with the charity-regulating office connected to Cuccinelli’s call for that office to be moved into the Office of the Attorney General? . . .

Cuccinelli political director Noah Wall has responded with a two-word statement: “Sore loser,” he said.

Last week, Cuccinelli announced that he would set aside $55,500 into a restricted account, pending the outcome of the VDACS investigation.

What does any of this have to do with Harrisonburg?

During the last regular session of General Assembly, Sen. Mark Obenshain and then Del. Matt Lohr introduced legislation (SB388 and HB965, respectively) that would have moved “investigative and consumer complaint and dispute resolution functions for certain consumer protection laws from the Office of Consumer Affairs within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) to the Division of Consumer Counsel within the Office of the Attorney General.”

Both bills were killed in committee. Two months later, Lohr was appointed commissioner of VDACS, initiating last week’s special election to fill his seat in the House of Delegates.

At this point, that’s all we know.

Lohr was unavailable for comment today. We will update this post, or publish a new story if/when we hear back from Lohr.

(H/T Adam)

UPDATE: Lohr contacted me Saturday morning to explain his bill and clarify his role in this:

My only involvement in this of course is I carried the bill (HB965). Last January, Audrey Berkshire [Jackson] — who used to work for me is now Ken’s legislative director — came to me and came to Mark Obenshain and asked us if we would be willing to put in the legislation that just transferred the Office of Consumer Affairs over to the AG’s office.

It was seen as a way of streamlining government, making the process more efficient; there were 41 other states that operated in the same way. I told them I would do it as long as everyone was in agreement. We worked with the Commissioner, Todd Haymore, who is now the Secretary. We wanted to make sure the agriculture community was completely on-board with it . . . Consumer Affairs is just one of the programs within [Consumer Services], so it’s a pretty small piece . . .

I think some people are somehow trying to draw me into this whole thing. My appointment to VDACS was entirely through Gov. McDonnell. AG Cuccinelli never had anything to do with me becoming commissioner. That was purely done through the administration . . . To see people go back and try to say that this was part of some quid pro quo is completely ridiculous.

Lohr could not comment on the Consumer Affairs investigation into USNVA.

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14 Responses to “Cuccinelli, Thompson & Consumer Affairs”

  1. This is neither here nor there, but the USNVA website is something to behold. Must be seen to be believed.

    • MF says:

      WOW! Hello 1995.

    • Renee says:

      Especially the grainy animated liberty bells about halfway down the page… they could get a high schooler to make it look much better for free for a class project or something.

  2. I don’t think that site would even load if I had dialup at my house.

    My rising fourth grader could design…nevermind.

  3. kuato says:

    This is interesting and bears watching. I’ll be looking for updates.

    Beyond that, y’all are right about that website. It hurt my eyes to look at it.

  4. I updated the story with Lohr’s response to the implication that his bill had anything to do with his appointment as VDACS commish.

  5. Matt neglected to mention that Bob McDonnell and six other prominent Republicans also got money from this con artist fundraiser, Bobby Thompson. Or that Bobby Thompson was Cuccinelli’s 2nd largest donor.

    Thompson was the source of $70,000 in campaign funds last year – all to Virginia Republicans. So when the governor and the Attorney General sought to protect their cash cow they called on the two legislators most likely to carry legislation without their sheepish constituents taking notice. Assbackistan, Virginia.

    • “All to Virginia Republicans?”

      Perhaps “mostly,” but not “all.” From the Roanoke Times (included in the post above) :

      “… He gave smaller amounts to four legislators, including $1,000 to Sen. Patsy Ticer, D-Alexandria, who sponsored the bill to create the exemption sought by U.S. Navy Vets …”

  6. David Miller says:

    I don’t think anyone can blame these guys for getting duped. The problem is that they don’t admit they were duped, nor do they return their ill gotten gains. They’re keeping the money.

    • Actually, my understanding is that McDonnell, who received $5,000, gave it to a vet-based charity.

    • The U.S.Navy Veterans Association has long been known to be scam charity. I contributed to them initially based on a VERY strong pitch about all the good work they were doing for Navy veterans. However, when I started checking them against lists recognized charities from CharityWatch or CharityNavigator I couldn’t find them.

      Then when I confronted them about their lack of legitimacy, they told me that they were recognized by “state officials” as a legitimate charity. I knew I was being lied to and contacted Senator Jim Webb.

      Bobby Thompson, and the U.S.Navy Veterans Association are crooks. Ken Cuccinelli knew this, Bob McDonnell knows this, Mark Obenshain knows this, and Matt Lohr don’t know nothing about nothing.

  7. Deb SF says:

    Follow-up on the story in the Sunday 6/27 RTD here:

    http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/oped/2010/jun/27/ed-cucc27-ar-231856/

    Last graph from the editorial:

    Last month a spokesman for Cuccinelli told The Times-Dispatch that “it would be atypical for the attorney general’s office to initiate an investigation into a nonprofit.” Yes. But it also is atypical for the AG’s office to initiate a fraud investigation into a professor’s research. The oddness has not stopped Cuccinelli from investigating former UVa climatologist Michael Mann. Nor has atypicality stopped Cuccinelli from announcing the formation of the Virginia Financial and Securities Fraud Task Force, an “unprecedented partnership” among federal and state civil regulators and criminal investigators, including the AG’s office, that is “committed to conducting parallel investigations.” Yet so far the attorney general’s office has not issued even a consumer alert about U.S. Navy Veterans. What’s stopping him?

  8. Austin Cook says:

    i always wait and look on the internet about the latest consumer electronics items that i can buy.-,`

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