RICHMOND — Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II launched a new TV ad Friday that portrays Democratic rival Terry McAuliffe as heartless wheeler and dealer, while a liberal super PAC began airing a spot that paints Cuccinelli as mired in scandal.
The dueling television commercials are only the latest attacks in Virginia's increasingly bitter race for governor.
Titled “Dealmaker,” Cuccinelli’s ad was based on a Washington Post report about McAuliffe’s business history. The story appeared in 2009, when McAuliffe ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor.
“Terry McAuliffe’s just a deal-maker,” it begins. “He made millions investing in companies that went bust, laid off thousands and drained employee savings. McAuliffe’s own campaign chairman said McAuliffe, ‘walked away with millions, leaving employees without pensions.’ Terry McAuliffe did whatever it took to make himself rich. Now he’ll say whatever it takes to make himself powerful.”
McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said the ad makes “false and misleading” claims.
“Ken Cuccinelli may be shaking up his staff and his slogan, but his desperate efforts to mask his divisive ideological agenda remain the same,” Schwerin said. “Cuccinelli’s false attacks, including deceiving laid-off workers into appearing in his misleading ad, won’t distract Virginia voters from his extreme record, his ongoing involvement in the Star Scientific gifts scandal, and the assistance his office provided to out-of-state energy companies fighting against Virginia landowners.”
The other new commercial comes from NextGen Climate Action Committee, a super PAC funded by environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer, who is pouring about $500,000 into a 10-day ad buy. Earlier this month, the group put $500,000 into another ad questioning Cuccinelli’s ethics. It also made a $400,000 in-kind donation to McAuliffe’s campaign to keep one of the campaign’s ads on the air.
The newest ad, titled “Questioned,” began its 10-day run Saturday in the Roanoke, Richmond and Norfolk markets.
The ad refers to the state Inspector General’s ongoing investigating into claims that an assistant in Cuccinelli’s office gave improper legal help to two energy companies fighting Southwest Virginia landowners in a mineral rights case. One of the companies, Consol Energy, donated $111,000 to Cuccinelli’s campaign. The attorney general is not personally under investigation, and his office has defended the assistant’s conduct.
The ad also refers to Cuccinelli’s disclosure last week that an FBI agent participated in an interview he gave to state police about his relationship with Jonnie R. Williams Sr. , the Star Scientific executive who provided him with $18,000 in gifts. Williams’s much larger gifts to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the McDonnell family are the focus of ongoing state and federal investigations.
Cuccinelli had initially failed to disclose $4,500 of the gifts as well stock holdings above $10,000 in Star, as required by law. He said the reporting lapses were errors and asked a Democratic prosecutor to review the matter. Cuccinelli said he was never the subject of a federal investigation, but that the FBI participated in questioning for the state review, which ultimately found no evidence that he’d broken the law.
At one point, the ad shows an image of FBI agents carting boxes of records from a building. The photo does not appear to have been taken in connection with the Star case.
“‘Alarming.’ ‘Clearly inappropriate,’” the ad begins. “Virginia’s newspapers on revelations that Ken Cuccinelli’s office secretly helped an out-of-state energy company that ripped off Virginia landowners but gave $100,000 to his campaign. A federal judge called it ‘shocking.’ The inspector general launched an investigation. And now Cuccinelli has been questioned by the FBI about the Star Scientific scandal. Investigations. Gifts. Scandals. Ken Cuccinelli’s not for us.”
Garren Shipley, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia said, “This ad is nothing but more distortions and half truths from a radical environmentalist who wants to shut down Virginia’s coal industry. Ken Cuccinelli has been fighting for Southwest Virginia his entire career. He proposed a real solution to the coalbed methane issue in 2011, but Democrats refused to carry his bill in the General Assembly. Since he couldn’t change the law to protect landowners completely, his office stood up to a group of Mississippi trial lawyers to help defend the existing law — the only safeguard that prevents gas companies from stealing gas from surrounding lands without compensation.”