It wasn't surprising that Virginia's Tobacco Commission popped up during the McDonnell corruption trial. In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, I explore how Virginia has used its $4.2 billion it received from four tobacco companies in 1998 and why it needs a makeover.
Virginia decided to use $1.7 billion of its share to plug budget holes. Then, pushed by powerful legislators from the tobacco belt that stretches across much of the southern tier of the state, it planned to use another $2.1 billion to create the grandly named Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.
The commission, in addition to paying health costs, was supposed to help folks in the tobacco belt recover from the local economic pain as cigarette smoking slowly diminished.
In fact, in its 15 years of existence, the commission has figured in a stunning array of scandals, including the recently concluded corruption trial involving former governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. Complaints abound about wasteful spending on dubious projects as well as cronyism. ...
Thirty-one political appointees, some linked by family and business ties along Tobacco Road, rule the commission. Big names include the commission’s architect, former state senator Charles R. Hawkins (R), and Terry Kilgore, the current chairman and Republican legislator whose brother Jerry was attorney general from 2002 to 2005. Jerry Kilgore also is the attorney for Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the prosecution’s star and protected witness in the McDonnell trial.