Democrats said they called on Cuccinelli, who is running for governor, to initiate the review because state law says that the inspector general can investigate an elected official for possible criminal violations only at the request of the governor, the attorney general or a grand jury.
Democrats said the public has a right to know whether Cuccinelli’s office violated laws or ethics when one of its senior attorneys collaborated with two Pennsylvania-based energy companies sued by Virginia landowners, who say the companies cheated them out of their natural gas royalties. One of the companies is part of a corporation that has given more than $111,000 to Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign since 2010.
Cuccinelli’s campaign dismissed the group of Democratic couriers as a political stunt to keep a manufactured controversy going.
On Friday, Brian J. Gottstein, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said Cuccinelli had used his office to push for legislative reforms in 2011 that could have accelerated the resolution of the disputed claims and therefore allowed rightful owners of the royalties to receive their money.
Among other things, the draft bill would have allowed the Virginia Gas and Oil Board to use hearing officers to make speedier determinations of ownership of natural gas royalties. And it would have levied fees on energy companies to cover the cost of the hearings, Gottstein said.
“This bill alone should prove that the AG was supportive of the property owners,” Gottstein said in an e-mail.
Gottstein also said Cuccinelli had asked Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) to sponsor the bill, but the senator declined. Puckett this week was the first to call for an investigation of Cuccinelli’s handling of the legal dispute. He could not be reached for comment.
Cuccinelli and the companies have denied wrongdoing. Cuccinelli has said that a senior attorney in his office discussed legal strategy with the energy companies only to defend the Virginia Oil and Gas Act and its method of handling competing claims to royalties generated from the production of coal-bed methane.
The companies — EQT Production Co. and CNX, which is a unit of Consol Energy — say they have paid the landowners what they were due or properly laid aside part of those disputed proceeds into escrow, as required by the Gas and Oil Act. The escrow account now holds about $28 million.