RICHMOND — Since narrowly losing the 2013 Virginia governor’s race to Terry McAuliffe, former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II has dabbled in oyster farming, launched a gun-rights law firm, criss-crossed the country for Sen. Ted Cruz, championed conservative U.S. Senate candidates and mulled another bid for the Executive Mansion.
On Tuesday, he assumed yet another role: Washington watchdog.
Cuccinelli joined the conservative FreedomWorks Foundation as its general counsel, a job that involves helping state attorneys general around the country combat overreaching federal regulations — something his new boss refers to as “the disturbing advance of the regulatory state.”
As Virginia’s attorney general from 2010 to 2014, Cuccinelli was known for challenging federal authorities. His lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act landed minutes after President Obama signed it into law. But he said most attorneys general are too busy with their other responsibilities to keep an eye on potentially onerous regulations in the works in Washington.
“They just don’t have the staff to watch this stuff,” Cuccinelli said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I was attorney general for the 12th most populous state. . . . No one was regularly available to keep a watch on the next — quote — great idea — quote — rolling out of Washington that we needed to be concerned about. We will provide a new set of eyes and ears and communicate with them as best we can, regardless of party.”
FreedomWorks, which has its roots the tea party movement but also appeals to some libertarians and traditional Republicans, bills itself as an advocate for “smaller government, lower taxes, free markets, personal liberty and the rule of law.”
“In his role, Ken will lead our new state attorneys general project, a groundbreaking effort through which we will provide grassroots support as states fight regulations forced upon them by unelected federal bureaucrats,” Adam Brandon, the group’s chief executive of FreedomWorks, said in a written statement.
In an interview, Brandon said Cuccinelli was a natural for the new project because of his record as Virginia’s attorney general.
“He did ground-breaking work as an AG,” Brandon said. “He did things as an AG that I didn’t even know AGs could do.”
As attorney general, Cuccinelli waged high-profile battles against abortion, gay rights, a university climate scientist, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Affordable Care Act. A hero to conservatives and a villain to liberals, he lost a tight race for governor to McAuliffe (D), an equally polarizing figure with close personal and political ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Cuccinelli’s role at the foundation will ebb and flow depending on what is brewing in Washington, according to Brandon, who said the post defies easy characterization as full-time or part-time work.
He takes on the position a month after two pivotal developments. Cuccinelli ruled out a run for governor in 2017, something he had been publicly considering since fall. And Cruz, the Texas senator and Republican presidential hopeful for whom Cuccinelli had been stumping, dropped out of the race.
In preparation for the FreedomWorks role, Cuccinelli shut down his private law practice, which had focused on appellate and constitutional cases.
But he will continue to juggle several other roles. He will stay on as president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, where he has promoted conservative candidates for the chamber since June 2014. He also will stay involved with Virginia Self Defense Law, a firm he founded in 2014 with a handful of partners and an unusual pricing strategy. For a cheap monthly retainer, the lawyers defend law-abiding gun owners who face firearms charges stemming from acts of self defense.
And Cuccinelli said he will stay involved with the oyster farm he runs with a small group of friends on Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake Bay.