Campaign claims in first debate

July 20, 2013

Businessman Terry McAuliffe (D) and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) spent much of the inaugural debate of 2013 trying to cast their opponent as the wrong choice for an electorate still making up their minds with less than four months until Election Day.

Not all of their claims were accurate, and the most obvious misstep of the 90-minute debate came when McAuliffe attacked Cuccinelli over the findings of a Richmond prosecutor tasked with investigating the attorney general’s financial disclosures.

Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring (D) last week reported that he found no evidence Cuccinelli had violated the law when he failed to disclose his stock holdings in Star Scientific and gifts from its chief executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the man at the center of the investigations of Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).

“If you read the whole report, which I have, it says here that the attorney general should have been prosecuted,” McAuliffe stated incorrectly.

McAuliffe also claimed that because of Cuccinelli’s ties to Williams, “a judge took the case away from him because of a conflict of interest,” referring to a civil tax case the company filed against the state.

But Cuccinelli’s office requested recusal from the civil tax case.

Here’s a look at a few of the issues raised during the debate:

TRANSPORTATION

During the debate, McAuliffe accused Cuccinelli of opposing the $1.4 billion state transportation funding plan originally proposed by McDonnell during this year’s General Assembly. Lawmakers reached a deal that critics — including Cuccinelli — opposed as a tax hike.

What was said:

“I supported it, my opponent tried to kill it at every chance he had,” McAuliffe said during the debate.

“Terry’s right, I didn’t support the transportation bill,” said Cuccinelli, adding that he supported an alternative proposal that ultimately did not pass.

What happened:

Cuccinelli weighed in on the proposal during negotiations, issuing an opinion as attorney general that said the law could be considered unconstitutional because in his legal opinion the General Assembly cannot impose special taxes on geographic areas as those it included in the plan. He offered guidance on changing the language to set non-geographic criteria that would be legal.

The bill was amended to address Cuccinelli’s concerns, and the transportation plan took effect July 1. Cuccinelli said if elected, he would seek to implement the law “as cost-effectively as humanly possible.” As a matter of policy, he opposes the tax increases in the law.

ENDORSEMENTS

During the debate, McAuliffe ticked off the names of several GOP donors and supporters who are backing his campaign after Cuccinelli accused him of “demonizing Republicans.”

What was said:

“I’m not demonizing Republicans,” McAuliffe said as he cited the support of some Virginia Republicans. “They’re endorsing me, as many have done in the past.”

What happened:

Several Republicans have endorsed McAuliffe, some of whom have donated to candidates of both parties and have previously supported Democrats. In doing so, some have also criticized Cuccinelli as an ideological crusader. Also it is not unusual in purple Virginia for supporters — including those backing McAuliffe — to switch sides in gubernatorial contests.

TRANSPARENCY

The federal and state probes into gifts and loans from Williams to McDonnell and members of his family, led to the question of ethics and transparency in state politics.

What was said:

“I’ve put eight years of my tax returns out,” Cuccinelli said. “Terry won’t do that. He still refuses to do that, even though he called on [GOP presidential nominee] Mitt Romney to do it last year.”

What happened:

Cuccinelli released eight years of his tax returns in April and has challenged McAuliffe to do the same — as McAuliffe challenged then-GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

McAuliffe later released a six-page summary of his tax returns from 2009 to 2011, which his campaign said went “above and beyond the disclosure requirements.”

Virginia gubernatorial candidates have not historically released income tax returns. The returns of governors are not public record, although they do file an annual financial disclosure report. So McAuliffe has gone beyond what was required.

But on the issue of tax returns, Cuccinelli has been the more transparent of the two candidates.

Errin Whack covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post, including the commonwealth’s General Assembly and the 2013 gubernatorial race.
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