Majority of voters say McDonnell should pay legal bills

An overwhelming number of Virginians think Gov. Bob McDonnell should pay for his own legal expenses in the gifts controversy, a new University of Mary Washington poll shows.

Of the people surveyed, 89 percent of the likely voters said they have heard either a lot or a little about McDonnell and his relationship with a wealthy donor.

The governor is facing state and federal probes into gifts he received from that donor.

Of those aware of the scandal, 44 percent of likely voters said they think McDonnell was involved in wrong doing, 19 percent said he was not and 29 percent said they have not heard enough to make a decision.

Of all people polled, registered voters or not, 38 percent thinks he was involved in wrong doing, 15 percent said no and 38 percent had not heard enough.

On whether McDonnell should pay his own legal bills, 85 percent said yes, while six percent said taxpayers should pay.

Taxpayers are footing the bill for representation of McDonnell in his official capacity, for his office and for state employees in a criminal case involving a former Executive Mansion chef and related gift probes of the governor.

(The case ended in September, when Todd Schneider, the former chef, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of embezzlement and received a one-year suspended sentence.)

Outside counsel was appointed by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, which said it faced conflicts in the case because it could be forced to cross-examine witnesses that it technically represents.

The office retained two law firms chosen by McDonnell’s office and those firms have billed taxpayers for more than $240,000 so far.

McDonnell has separate, private legal counsel that is being paid through a legal defense fund set up for the governor.

McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said once the conflict was announced, McDonnell’s office chose outside counsel at rates that are “far less than their usual amounts.”

“Outside counsel was not appointed to represent the governor in his personal capacity or to personally ‘defend’ him,” Martin said. “The governor has personal representation by private counsel that is not being paid with taxpayer dollars.”
According to the university, 89 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Independents and 89 percent of Democrats said the governor should pay the state legal bills.

On whether they think the governor should resign over the matter, 23 percent of voters said yes, 68 percent said no and eight percent said they didn’t know.

The survey also shows that McDonnell’s job approval rating sits at 46 percent among likely voters. Another 44 percent of voters disapprove and 10 percent said they don’t know.

The University of Mary Washington survey polled 1,001 adults living in Virginia from Sept. 25-29. The subsample of 559 likely voters carries a margin of error of +/- 4.7 percentage points.