RICHMOND — The newest TV ad in the Virginia governor’s race focuses on Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s legal battle with a University of Virginia climate scientist.
Titled “Witch Hunt,” the commercial recalls a two-year effort by Cuccinelli, the GOP nominee for governor and a climate change skeptic, to obtain records from Michael Mann, then a U-Va. researcher.
The campaign of Terry McAuliffe, Cuccinelli’s Democratic rival, released the ad Monday. It declined to say where it will run and for how long.
“It’s been called ‘Cuccinelli’s witch hunt.’ ‘Designed to intimidate and suppress,’ ” a narrator for the 30-second spot says, quoting newspaper editorials from the time. “Ken Cuccinelli used taxpayer funds to investigate a U-Va. professor whose research on climate change Cuccinelli opposed. Cuccinelli, a climate change denier, forced the university to spend over half a million dollars defending itself against its own attorney general. Ken Cuccinelli — he’s focused on his own agenda, not us.”
The ad is part of McAuliffe’s broader strategy to portray himself as a business-oriented moderate and Cuccinelli as someone outside the mainstream on a range of cultural issues. The opening image of the ad shows McAuliffe sitting at table, having a seemingly productive discussion with others gathered there.
In 2010, Cuccinelli issued a civil investigative demand — essentially a subpoena — for grant applications and correspondence exchanged among Mann, research assistants, and scientists around the country. He based that demand on a 2002 state law designed to combat government employees defrauding the public of tax dollars. Cuccinelli said he was trying to investigate if Mann had, while seeking grants to study climate change, had used manipulated data to show that there has been a recent spike rise in the Earth’s temperature.
Skeptics of global warming seized on Mann after references to a statistical “trick” he used in his research came to light in e-mail leaked from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. Mann and others have said that the word was taken out of context. Several inquiries, including one by the National Science Foundation, found no evidence that Mann had falsified or suppressed data.
U-Va. refused to turn over the records, contending that the demand exceeded Cuccinelli’s authority and infringed on the rights of professors to conduct research free from political pressure. Using $570,698 in private funds, the university hired outside counsel and ultimately fought Cuccinelli all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court. In March 2012, the court sided with the university, finding that Cuccinelli lacked authority to demand the records.
“The investigation referenced was never about science itself, but rather whether taxpayer money was used improperly,” said Anna Nix, a spokeswoman for Cuccinelli’s campaign. “What is indisputable is that Terry McAuliffe and Michael Mann joined together to campaign in support of an energy policy that will raise electricity prices for all Virginians and put people in Southwest Virginia out of work.”