by Paul Goldman
In the textbooks of the future, “Doing The LaCivita” will become the phrase used to describe the ultimate public relations screw-up by a professional campaign guy. The phrase is in honor of Chris LaCivita, the guruless guru behind the Cuccinelli for Governor (NON) effort. While a candidate is ultimately responsible for his campaign, this much is true: if Chris were a lawyer, his malpractice carrier would simply write a check for the maximum amount to Cuccinelli, to be used to give the AG a fresh start after he leaves the AG’s office in a few months. The carrier would not contest the matter, it being “res ipsa loquitor” as they say in the law, the thing speaks for itself.
“Blame It on the Bossa Nova” is one of those hit dance songs out of pop’s past. “Doing The LaCivita” may catch on too as a dance song, especially at Virginia Democratic Party rallies. It is simply impossible for a campaign to have handled an issue – the $18K Jonnie Williams gift issue (which was not illegal, indeed had been “cleared” by a Democratic prosecuto) – any worse.
In 1989, for example, Doug Wilder faced a problem with failing to report some stuff. In 2008, Hillary Clinton had to return some money to a donor. In 1996, the DNC had to off-load huge sums of illegal foreign cash. And those are just the Democrats: this stuff happens all the time, to both parties. You deal with it, no big story, and surely not one that lasts this long and keepts getting fresh legs through total campaign malpractice.
Like I say: “Doing The LaCivita” is going to be taught for years in Dr. Sabato’s UVA class on politics, among other places. If Chris gets a competent lawyer, he might be able to claim copyright fees. I mean, seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.
MOREOVER: The real reason – and this is, as the teenagers say, “sweet” – Cuccinelli refusal to pay back the $18K is due to something the average voter doesn’t know, the way gifts are required to be disclosed in Virginia. In fact, the gifts weren’t worth $18K — not even CLOSE!
That’s right: the $18K value is based on how the law works in Virginia. That is to say: the Cuccinelli gift value is different than all those cash gifts from bad boy Jonnie Williams to the Governor’s real estate firm, the First Lady, the daughter’s weddings, the shopping sprees, etc. The 18K value to Cuccinelli reflects NOT CASH ACTUALLY GIVEN, not the CASH actually spent by Williams, but rather the estimated fair market value of in-kind gifts.
In-kind gifts are NOT cash gifts, thus their value is set by estimation as required by the equation in the Virginia Code. For example: you spend a week at a friend’s house in the most exclusive resort in the world. It would otherwise be vacant. What’s the value to you? What is the cost to your friend?
Virginia law requires the value reported on a politician’s disclosure to be based on what such rental would have likely cost a hypothetical vacationer renting it for a week. But: There is no such person since the house is not rented out.
So what happens? Politicians love to show how much money they can raise and so. Since the newspapers just focus on the top line number (cash and in-kind combined), the politician’s staffers try to put the highest value possible on in-kind stuff even if it has no relationship to reality.
MEANING: Cuccinelli has been rankled for months now at being forced to come up with $18K for stuff he knows didn’t cost Williams anything of the sort!!! Does Cuccinelli have a financial point? Let’s assume, arguendo, he does. But does he have a political point? NADA.
Bottom line: Cuccinelli initially refused, at least this is my analysis, in good measure because he didn’t think the $18K was fair given the facts since his gifts were not the cash and carry given to McDonnell.
The conclusion at 200-Proof: Mr. Cuccinelli’s picture is going to be in the political Hall of Fame next to the adage “Penny wise and pound foolish.” Got to “man up,” bro. So maybe you are being forced to overpay, it’s the price of doing business. Besides, you put the value on it right. “Doing the LaCivita” is now the most expensive dance tune in the history of the Commonwealth.