Virginia Democrats and Republicans held dueling news conferences Tuesday to trade blasts at Ken Cuccinelli’s ties to Star Scientific and Terry McAuliffe’s departure from GreenTech Automotive.
Democrats fired first with a renewed call for the Republican gubernatorial candidate to resign as attorney general following disclosures that he owns stock and has accepted gifts from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., CEO of Star Scientific, a struggling former tobacco company turned dietary supplement maker that is in litigation with the state over a $700,000 tax assessment.
Republicans returned fire several hours later with attacks on McAuliffe, the presumptive Democratic nominee, over his brief stewardship of GreenTech Automotive, a Mississippi-based electric car company that he used to trumpet his job-creation credentials for Virginia even after he quietly resigned from the company.
Also Tuesday, a Democratic lawmaker said he would favor legislation to close what some call a loophole — the provision that does not require reporting of gifts to family members or gifts from personal friends. A House Republican leader said he would not mind looking at the provision, but he does not consider it a significant problem.
Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, said Cuccinelli needs to resign his office to avoid further conflicts between his personal financial interests, the demands of his candidacy, and the responsibilities of the attorney general as the top lawyer for state government.
The previous six attorneys general who ran for governor resigned before the term ended.
McEachin, responding to a reporter’s question, also said he would favor legislation that would close what some believe is a loophole that does not require reporting of gifts to family members or gifts from personal friends.
“I think it needs to be closed,” McEachin said, “but I don’t want to take away from the point of today’s press conference.”
Asked about McEachin’s comment, House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said: “I don’t see that” perceived loophole “as a huge problem.”
“I have no problem looking at it,” Cox said, “but I certainly don’t see that as a real problem in Virginia.”
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a contract and paid a deposit for catering for his daughter’s 2011 wedding, despite claims that the $15,000 Williams later paid to cover the catering expenses was a gift to his daughter.
The paper reported that it obtained the catering contract signed by McDonnell, including notes he made to the caterer. The newspaper reported that McDonnell paid nearly $8,000 in deposits for the catering. His wife received a more than $3,500 refund for catering overpayment.
Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for the governor, said McDonnell’s daughter, Cailin, asked her father to review the contract and did not know he had signed the contract and paid the deposit until afterward.
Caldwell said the young couple paid other expenses relating to their wedding. He said the refund was to cover part of McDonnell’s deposit. No refund went to the bride and groom or to the donor.
On Monday, McDonnell acknowledged the gift, saying: “Mr. Williams gave my daughter a wedding present.” He added: “Gifts that come to other family members under the current law are not reportable.”
On Tuesday Democrats took aim at Cuccinelli, who has said that he was unaware that Star Scientific had sued the state over a tax bill at the time he obtained Star stock.
“It is the job of every attorney to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” said McEachin. “How Ken Cuccinelli doesn’t know that he has $10,000 worth of stock in a company that’s adverse to him is beyond my comprehension.
“All law firms run conflict checks, ... He is the head of the state’s largest law firm, and failed to even do the most simple basic conflicts checks to see if his office should be handling a particular case,” he added. “That is a failure in being a lawyer.”
Republicans meanwhile kicked the tires on McAuliffe’s electric car business as a demonstration of his business and job creation acumen and said the candidate and the company has fallen flat.
“Not only did he not bring those thousands of jobs to Virginia, not only did he take them to Mississippi ... all is not what he promised,” said Del. Gregory D. Habeeb, R-Salem.
“It was somewhat stunning to find out that back last year he actually resigned from GreenTech with no public notice, and has nonetheless continued to discuss that role with his company.“
Del. Timothy D. Hugo, R-Fairfax, called McAuliffe’s promise of GreenTech as job creator “a myth.”
“If he was so proud he was telling people he was head of GreenTech in January, why did he actually resign in December?” Hugo added.
It was just last July that McAuliffe showed up for the official opening of the GreenTech plant in Mississippi with former President Bill Clinton. In recent weeks, however, Republicans have cast doubts on whether GreenTech will deliver the jobs and electric MyCars that were promised.
McAuliffe said he resigned his post at GreenTech in December to focus on his run for governor. He still retains at least a $250,000 stock interest in the company.
“If his rationale for running (for governor) is GreenTech,” said Hugo, “it’s not there.”