McAuliffe’s ad takes aim at Cuccinelli over his office’s handling of a mineral rights case, itself the subject of an investigation.
Virginia Inspector General Michael F. A. Morehart is probing allegations that a lawyer in the attorney general’s office improperly sided with out-of-state energy companies over residents in a dispute over mineral rights. Morehart’s investigation focuses on a Cuccinelli staffer, not Cuccinelli himself.
Titled “Paul,” the ad features Paul Osborne, a Southwest Virginia landowner.
“My family’s been in Southwest Virginia since the mid-1800s,” he says. “My grandfather would roll over in his grave if he saw what was going on today with the energy companies. Ken Cuccinelli is helping the energy companies take all that they can take from the landowners. He’s received over a hundred thousand dollars for his campaign. If I can’t trust him now as the attorney general, how am I going to trust him as a governor?”
The inspector general’s inquiry stems from a legal dispute between energy companies and landowners over which of them owns the rights to methane gas pumped from coal seams. Methane produced during mining operations used to be vented into the atmosphere, but advances in technology now allow it to be captured. Landowners who sold the rights to coal on their property before that technology was developed say they own the rights to the methane as well, while the companies say those rights belong to them.
The matter became in issue in the governor’s race in June, when a federal magistrate judge wrote that Senior Assistant Attorney General Sharon M.B. Pigeon had been “shockingly” involved in assisting the energy companies with their defense. One of the companies is part of a corporation that has given more than $111,000 to Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign since 2010.
Cuccinelli has said that Pigeon communicated with company lawyers about the state’s Gas and Oil Act, which the companies are using in their defense and the commonwealth has an interest in protecting as existing state law.
“Ken has a long history of working for the people of Southwest Virginia, including offering legislation to release the gas royalties to the rightful owners and protecting the coal industry from the McAuliffe/Obama War on Coal,” Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix said via e-mail. “Ken will continue to campaign, in Southwest Virginia and across the Commonwealth, on his positive message of creating jobs, growing the economy, and easing the burden on middle-class families, while Terry apparently will do little outside lying about Ken’s record as well as his own.”