Home Virginia Politics Waldo Jaquith: Tobacco-related Puckett scandal about “profound lack of ethics laws in...

Waldo Jaquith: Tobacco-related Puckett scandal about “profound lack of ethics laws in Virginia”


Waldo Jaquith absolutely NAILS it.

Let us now consider a series of odd coincidences here. Puckett was wooed away to run the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, which paid $309M to Virginia tobacco producers to persuade them to stop growing tobacco…

But, wait, there’s more. The tobacco commission actually gave a $2M grant to Star Tobacco to help them promote their cigarettes and chew, appallingly. And-get this-a big part of what McDonnell is in trouble for…

And it gets better still! The chairman of the tobacco commission is Terry Kilgore, the Republican legislator who is said to have struck the deal with Puckett. Kilgore’s twin brother, Jerry Kilgore, isn’t merely a former attorney general of Virginia, but he’s also the attorney representing Johnny Williams, the CEO of Star Scientific, in the McDonnell case.


These two tobacco-related scandals aren’t about the power of tobacco, it’s about the profound lack of ethics laws in Virginia.

More on the “flip”

We talk a good game here about “the Virginia Way.” This is the notion that rhetorical civility, bipartisanship, comity, and transparency are all that’s really necessary. We don’t need laws about ethics, because everybody in government is honest and everybody in the public knows it…It is now entirely evident that these people are utterly, humiliatingly wrong, but, much like legislative Republicans and Phil Puckett right now, they just don’t care, because it’s working out for them.

Kilgore and company will get their majority, and they’ll be able to keep 400,000 Virginians from getting health insurance and the state from getting $1.7B in federal taxes already being collected from Virginians, which are very important to them for some reason that they can’t quite explain. Puckett will get a job, with a salary that Kilgore says he’ll determine at a later date. (Can you believe that Puckett is quitting his Senate seat in exchange for a job with an undetermined salary? Yeah, neither can I.) Apparently that moral calculus-he gets a job, 400,000 people don’t get health care-makes sense to him.

This entire sad show-bound to make Virginia a national laughingstock yet again-is the cherry on top of the General Assembly’s completely useless ethics reform bill which, of course, does absolutely nothing to prohibit this. Selling your seat in exchange for a couple of state jobs is something that they never considered, despite its obviousness, because the entire bill was a charade, a performance for the benefit of voters. Well, perhaps “benefit” isn’t the word. The only people benefiting from this are the 140 members of the legislature. I can think of nineteen senators who might be wishing they’d written a better bill.

I would just remind everyone of Dick Saslaw arguging in crude language that ethics laws are irrelevant and unnecessary, it’s all because there are some people with a “computer chip in their head that’s not working, telling them the difference between right and wrong.” So, I guess Phil Puckett, who Saslaw spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on trying to keep in the Senate, has a “computer chip” that’s “not working?” Well, sure, that appears to be the case, but strong ethics laws would at least have made this illegal and possibly sent Puckett and others (e.g., Terry Kilgore) to jail for this crap.

  • Dan Sullivan

    They will never proscribe behavior. They are there to prescribe the remedies for bad behavior. Extending Saslaw’s logic against effective ethics legislation would mean we need no laws at all. After all, it’s only a few people murdering and raping, so why should all the good people be bothered by restrictions they’ll never violate.

    Methinks Saslaw dost protest too much!!!

  • The reports about the circumstances surrounding this resignation are very troubling. I certainly hope the reports are not true and that the exchange of state resources did not motivate this decision. What we have at stake here in the budget debate is whether we will provide over 400,000 hard working Virginians with quality healthcare, and I hope that those who oppose closing the coverage gap would not resort to exchanging state resources in an attempt to deny Virginians coverage.

  • That’s right: by cutting a deal for the job with the Tobacco Commission, Senator Puckett sets himself for a huge pension benefit under a special law that I challenged but got no help in trying to overturn.

    It is a special pension benefit only available to Virginia politicians, who get to count their years as part-time legislators as full years work for perhaps of the state pension system. It is a special law only for them, and only permissible due to a special political benefit enacted by the Congress!

    Assuming Mr. Puckett stays in good health as would be the normative case, his Senate or pension benefit could be worth up to a $million bucks MORE than he would otherwise receive as a Senator depending on various factors.

    That’s right: For just 3 years of full time at a totally political job on the Tobacco Commission, Mr. Puckett can get a very nice pension benefit.

    Why? Because by 2017, he will have 20 years into the VRS pension system and will be credited as if he worked 20 years full time, as opposed to only 3 with 17 as a part-time legislator.

    Can you really blame him for making the move when it also helps his daughter?

  • The Richmonder

    Who will be the first elected official in Virginia to show the courage and ethical backbone to call for an investigation of this incident?