RICHMOND — Having never held elective office, Democrat Terry McAuliffe touts his leadership of an electric car company and other business ventures as proof that he has the executive experience needed to run Virginia as governor.
His role in GreenTech Automotive, however, has drawn intense scrutiny over the past few days, when it was learned that he quietly resigned as chairman months ago and that the company owed back taxes on land it owns in Mississippi. More trouble surfaced Wednesday in the form of e-mails that Virginia economic development officials exchanged about the project in 2009, when McAuliffe considered locating the facility in the commonwealth.
Virginia officials expressed concerns about several aspects of GreenTech, including its financing. Among those concerns was that the project would rely too heavily on a federal program that provides visas to foreign investors who create U.S. jobs.
One official went so far as to write that she was concerned that the project was “a visa-for-sale scheme with potential national security implications,” according to an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post.
Financing for GreenTech depended in part on using a visa program that would provide green cards to overseas investors and their immediate families if they pledged $500,000 toward the venture, according to the e-mail. The visas are known as EB-5.
“I maintain serious concerns about the establishment of an EB-5 center in general, and most specifically, based on this company,” Liz Povar, vice president for business expansions at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, wrote in the e-mail to colleagues in November 2009. “Not only based on (lack of) management expertise, (lack of) market preparation, etc. but also still can’t get my head around this being anything other than a visa-for-sale scheme with potential national security implications that we have no way to confirm or discount.”
Roy C. Dahlquist, then international investment manager at the partnership, responded: “Liz, Please note that I agree with your observations and opinions on this subject.”
At the time that they exchanged the e-mails about GreenTech, Povar and Dahlquist were serving under Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) at the partnership, an independent, state-funded authority. Both remain at the agency under Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). Povar and Dahlquist did not personally respond to questions about the e-mail exchange.
McAuliffe’s campaign, in response to questions, e-mailed documents suggesting that the visa program for overseas entrepreneurs has a proven record of success in creating businesses in the United States but declined to comment on the specific e-mails.
GreenTech has been an issue since December, when in one of his earliest campaign appearances McAuliffe said the plant was located in Mississippi instead of Virginia because Virginia officials decided they “didn’t want to bid on it.” The partnership had raised concerns about the venture, including the EB-5 visas, but had not closed the door on it, according to PolitiFact. The Associated Press and PolitiFact requested the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
On Wednesday, NBC12 in Richmond reported that GreenTech has been in arrears as of this week on a 100-acre property in Tunica County, Miss. But the tax payment was applied this week, county assessor Norma Anderson said. “It posted late, but it’s posted,” Anderson said.
The company owns 100 acres in Tunica appraised at $1.5 million; its assessed value — or the amount on which taxes must be paid — was $225,000, she said.
Marianne McInerney, GreenTech’s executive vice president for sales and marketing, said late Wednesday that the delay in paying the taxes occurred because the tax assessor’s office wasn’t certain whether tax abatements applied. It was determined that they do not because cars are not yet being produced in Tunica, she said. McInerney said the company is making “a lot” of the alternative fuel vehicles in its plant in Horn Lake, Miss.
McInerney, who was returning from the Netherlands after the company signed a distribution agreement there, said GreenTech was no different than a growing number of businesses that have decided to use an entrepreneurial visa program that has been around for more than 30 years.
McAuliffe’s Republican opponent to succeed McDonnell, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, has made GreenTech a central theme of his campaign.
Last week, Cuccinelli’s campaign leapt on news that McAuliffe had stepped down as GreenTech’s chairman effective Dec. 1 without any announcement. On Wednesday, it found new fodder in the late tax payment.
“Terry McAuliffe has staked his candidacy on his business record, yet it is rife with secrecy and unfilled promises,” Cuccinelli campaign spokeswoman Anna Nix said.