Terry McAuliffe, left, and Ken Cuccinelli, right. (AP/AP)

The contenders in Virginia governor’s race on Monday took aim at each other’s ethics using some now familiar weapons: Terry McAuliffe attacked Ken Cuccinelli with a new television ad about gifts the Republican received from a prominent GOP donor, while an op-ed by Cuccinelli about McAuliffe’s struggling car company questioned the Democrat’s ability to tell the truth.

The grime issued almost daily from both camps has threatened to obscure debate over other issues in one of the nation’s most closely watched races this year.

McAuliffe’s new ad uses TV news snippets to contrast Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s decision to return thousands of dollars in gifts that he and his family received from Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams, Sr. with Cuccinelli’s decision not to return anything.

“As Governor Bob McDonnell returns thousands of dollars worth of gifts to campaign donor Jonnie Williams, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says he’s not giving anything back,” a TV news reporter says in the ad.

Cuccinelli received $18,000 in gifts, including a flight, a turkey dinner, and stays at Williams’ home that he initially failed to report. Cuccinelli also had purchased stock in Williams’ company. After amending his disclosure forms, he asked a state prosecutor to examine the lapses, and the prosecutor found that no laws had been broken.

“To hear Terry McAuliffe — whose company is under two federal investigations, who rented the Lincoln Bedroom and Air Force One to campaign donors, who loaned one millions dollars to the Clintons to buy their New York home, and who used his political connections to make millions while others lost their jobs — breathe a single word about ethics or campaign donations is the height of hypocrisy,” Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix said in an email.

Meanwhile, Cuccinelli wrote an op-ed in the National Review on Monday that criticized McAuliffe’s role in GreenTech Automotive, an electric car company that the former Democratic National Committee chairman founded. The business venture has so far failed to live up to McAuliffe’s promises and is under investigation.

The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general is trying to determine whether a top Obama administration immigration official gave special treatment to GreenTech, which relies on capital from foreign investors. The Securities and Exchange Commission is also investigating GreenTech over its conduct in soliciting foreign investors, according to law enforcement documents and company officials. The SEC has subpoenaed documents from GreenTech and a sister firm, Gulf Coast Funds Management of McLean.

In a Washington Post op-ed , McAuliffe said he has not been contacted by investigators and knew nothing about the SEC probe except what he learned from media reports.

“From what has been reported, the investigation appears to be looking at a document allegedly prepared for potential investors — something I was not responsible for as chairman,” McAuliffe wrote.

In Monday’s online posting, Cuccinelli took McAuliffe to task for claiming that, as chairman, he could not be held responsible.

Cuccinelli also said McAuliffe’s op-ed failed to address other questions about the venture raised by The Post and other publications, including reports by former employees that they sometimes pretended to be assembling vehicles when foreign investors were visiting GreenTech’s plant in Mississippi. Company officials have said the former employees were mistaken because no foreign investors visited the plant except for a celebratory product launch in July 2012.

“If true, and if those investors relied on what they saw in deciding to invest, then that would be classic fraud,” Cuccinelli wrote, adding that McAuliffe had glossed over several other questions raised by news accounts or the investigations. “I believe my opponent has demonstrated a proclivity to be less than honest (to characterize it generously), and has skirted the truth consistently for many years,” Cuccinelli wrote.

McAuliffe campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin gave this response: “Instead of running away from reporters and writing for Tea Party blogs, Ken Cuccinelli needs to return the $18,000 in gifts he got from Star Scientific and Jonnie Williams and answer questions about the IG investigation into his office’s aid to an out-of-state energy company in their fight against Virginia landowners.”