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Virginia attorney general candidates release dueling ads

John Adams, who is in a heated attorney general's race in Virginia this fall, makes an appearance at the 15th KORUS (Korean/United States) Festival at the Sully Historic Site on Sept. 23, 2017, in Chantilly. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

This story has been updated

A television ad by the Republican nominee for Virginia attorney general that will air in the Northern Virginia market this weekend reaches back almost four years to attack Democratic incumbent Mark Herring for using money from a Medicaid fraud settlement for pay raises for lawyers in his office.

John Adams's 30-second ad, the latest in a series of attack ads that both sides are producing in the attorney general's race, focuses on settlement negotiated in a joint state-federal case with Abbott Laboratories in early 2014. Virginia was awarded $100 million for Abbott's illegal marketing of the anti-seizure drug Depakote.

Then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) proposed setting $6 million of that aside to build shelters for victims of sex trafficking. When Herring took office, he used federal money to pay the agency's rent, vehicle maintenance and operational costs, all allowed under federal guidelines, according to an Associated Press report. That freed up general fund money to be used for raises for 16 employees — some as much as $15,000 a year — at a time when salaries for other state employees were stagnant.

Adams called those “backdoor pay raises” and noted that one was awarded to Herring’s former campaign manager and to a former lobbyist. Adams had raised the issue in August, as well, pointing out that other states used some of their money for autism screenings, mental health treatment and schools. But Michael Kelly, communications director of the attorney general’s office, called that claim “a whopper” and said that money came from a different settlement with Abbott Labs.

“John Adams’s ad is a lie and just the latest sign that his campaign is desperate,” added Adam Zuckerman, Herring’s campaign manager.

“Mark Herring has made Virginia a national leader in combating human trafficking and child exploitation” through investigations and prosecutions, Zuckerman said. He said Virginia has dropped from fifth to 13th among the states in the number of calls to the national human trafficking hotline.

“Adams wants to distract Virginia voters from his work to limit a woman’s right to make her own health-care decisions and his support for a plan to increase premiums and allow insurance companies to deny health-care coverage to Virginians with preexisting conditions,” Zuckerman said.

The Herring campaign also began airing an ad Wednesday that focuses on his work eliminating a decades-old backlog of 3,000 untested rape kits.

The latest stories and details on the 2017 Virginia general election and race for governor.

The ads, some of which air only in selected markets or online, are drawing attention as absentee voting has begun for the Nov. 7 election. Casa in Action, an immigrant advocacy organization, on Wednesday declared a previous Adams ad “outrageous” for implying that children of immigrants are not Virginians and should not be allowed to pay in-state tuition at the commonwealth’s colleges and universities.