Virginia governor candidates both face criticism for past business dealings

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli are both being shadowed in the race to become Virginia's next governor by accusations over their past business dealings, and each is trying to use those accusations to prove the other is unethical.

McAuliffe has been taking heat over an electric-car plant he founded in Mississippi, which, among other things, failed to pay local taxes. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, is invested in a health supplement company that is suing the state over a tax dispute.

"The calendar may say April, but the campaigns' combat sounds like October to me," said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington.

McAuliffe's company, GreenTech Automotive, was criticized this week for failing to pay $16,500 in local property taxes on its Tunica County, Miss., manufacturing plant. Company officials said the failure was the result of a misunderstanding over when the plant could start taking a tax deduction promised by the state.

GreenTech ultimately paid its taxes and a $500 late fee, but the revelation underscored that the business McAuliffe quietly left in November hasn't come close to reaching the lofty production and job-creation goals he claimed it would.

Meanwhile, Cuccinelli's relationship with Virginia supplement-maker Star Scientific continues to garner criticism. The attorney general invested more than $10,000 and continued to buy stock and accept gifts from the company's CEO, Jonnie Williams Sr., even after the Star Scientific sued the state over $700,000 in taxes -- a case Cuccinelli's office had been handing. To avoid the conflict of interest, Cuccinelli turned the case over to outside counsel.

McAuliffe's GreenTech problems give credence to Republican criticism that the former Democratic National Committee chairman is closer to a slick, political operative than a savvy businessman, Farnsworth said, but Cuccinelli will have trouble arguing he's cleaner when Democrats are now questioning his ethics.

The two "scandals" could cancel each other out, Farnsworth added, unless the problems escalate for one of the candidates.

McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said Cuccinelli "hasn't been seen in public in weeks and refuses to explain why he bought more stock in Star Scientific after they sued Virginia over a million dollars in unpaid taxes." While McAuliffe holds multiple events each week that are open to reporters, Cuccinelli has so far been less visible on the campaign trail.

Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix countered that the Republican threw out the first pitch at the Fairfax Little League Opening Day and attended the Loudoun County GOP Spring Jamboree, among other events. Earlier this week, Nix accused McAuliffe of evading answers about GreenTech.

"McAuliffe wants you to believe he doesn't know anything about GreenTech's delinquent taxes," she said, "but his track record on the truth suggests otherwise."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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