McAuliffe and Cuccinelli’s battle of innuendo

August 16, 2013

Virginia’s nasty gubernatorial race fills television screens and Web sites with suggestions of corruption by both candidates, involving everything from gifts to natural gas rights to a struggling electric carmaker in Mississippi.

There’s anything but a smoking gun, but no shortage of innuendo. And I think it is important to point that out.

My first concern is the furor over Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe’s misadventure with GreenTech Automotive, which makes small electric cars in Northern Mississippi after skipping past Virginia during its search for a plant site.

The campaign of Republican contender Kenneth Cuccinelli is making  a lot of hay over some rather vague accusations’ involving McAuliffe, and that seems to be as much as they have on Terry. The New York Times and The Post have weighed in with stories about the car company and a related financial firm that involves Hillary Rodham Clinton’s brother.

Basically, McAuliffe got into business with a man named Charles Wang to build little battery-powered cars. Part of the strategy involved getting visas for some business people from China under a legal program that has been around for about two decades. McAuliffe may have done a bit of informal lobbying to expedite the visa processs, as far as I can tell.

Meanwhile, GreenTech is floundering, has hired far fewer people than advertised and isn’t churning out many cars. The Securities & Exchange Commission is probing whether the firm misled some investors by guaranteeing them a profit.

In essence, that’s it so far. McAuliffe quietly left the firm before Dec. 1 and didn’t tell anyone for months. And he apparently left under bad terms. According to the Times: “Still, there are days when Mr. Wang says he wishes he had never gone into business with a politically connected partner. ‘I learned a lot of things, he said. ‘Politicians or people with political backgrounds are dangerous to business.’”

In sum, at least from what we know so far, McAuliffe got involved in a business that didn’t live up to expectations. He should have told voters he’d bailed on the firm sooner than he did.

A little perspective. There are lots of business problems out there. Here in Richmond, the region lost some big companies during the Great Recession, including mass retailer Circuit City, mortgage firm Land America and chip-maker Qimondo. The Post has such financial problems that it is being bought by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.

Where’s the smoking gun in these cases?

It’s hard to find one in Cuccinelli’s affairs, too, but there seems to be more of substance there. The attorney general bought stock in a firm involved in a tax case his office was prosecuted. He did not immediately disclose the holding. He also accepted $18,000 in gifts from the owner of the firm, but a prosecutor has since cleared him of any illegality. One of his assistants was criticized by a federal judge for acting as an advocate for two large energy companies in a legal battle over natural gas rights. One of the firms is a major contributor to Cuccinelli’s campaign.

Nothing here is going to send Cuccinelli to jail, but how do McAuliffe’s problems with GreenTech measure up as ethical transgressions when compared to Cuccinelli’s?

The fact is, they don’t, barring more revelations about GreenTech.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

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