The former governor of my state and his wife were indicted yesterday on federal charges of accepting gifts and loans, then lying about them. In a 42-page, 14-count indictment that reads like a cheap novel (I read the whole thing last night), prosecutors allege an amazingly brazen pattern of gifting and lending and lying in exchange for political favors and access.
I don't really care whether or not McDonnell and his wife are found guilty and go to the big house. He's already admitted to the facts of the case and apologized for his "bad judgment." His defense will be that what he did doesn't violate federal law. The courts will sort that out. We already know that what he and his wife did was slimy, pathetic, and broke faith with the people of Virginia. He is out of office and his political hopes are in shambles. That's enough for me.
Here's what really bothers me: Before he became governor, McDonnell was attorney general, which pays $150,000 a year. As governor his salary was raised to $200,000. OK, not huge money for a top leadership position. A kid just out of law school in a New York or Washington firm makes that much. On the other hand, to most Americans who are trying to make ends meet, that's a lot of dough. Certainly enough to live comfortably on.
But the rationale for McDonnell (and especially his wife's) pleas for largesse was that they were "flat broke" with huge amounts of credit card and mortgage debt. Turns out that this $200,000 a year lawyer "owned" a house near Richmond worth about $850,000; another house near a Virginia resort worth a million; and two beach properties, purchased as rental investments for a million each. Turns out that the beach properties were not only underwater (sorry), but the rents were not covering the carrying charges and other expenses.
So, they were broke for two obvious reasons: too much debt and too much invested in a single asset class (real estate). Any financial advisor would spot this in a second and wave them off. But, you know, you can never tell a lawyer anything.
Many people making far less live proudly within their means, invest regularly and wisely and, over time, win the game. I know such people and perhaps you do too.
Whether or not the McDonnells go to the calaboose, their finances are a mess because of the same kind of poor judgment that drove them to their ethical breaches. They're getting what they deserve.