- Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 July 2013 10:26
- Published on Wednesday, 10 July 2013 00:20
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This may seem like campaign rhetoric. However, this is much more serious than the usual back and flow of charges and counter charges that are apt to fly during an election cycle.
It’s becoming clear that the Attorney General of Virginia and now GOP candidate for Governor, Ken Cuccinelli, is running an office that has serious problems. There are questions about propriety and conflict of interest that must be addressed. It’s been said that its too late, that the voters will render their opinion in November when they decide whether or not to make Attorney General Cuccinelli their governor. And that, some claim, will put the issue to rest. But, the situation has become so grave and confidence in the Attorney’s General’s office so weak that something needs to be done now. That something, done in short order to get this behind us, is an independent probe.
This has nothing to do with the Attorney General’s penchant for publicity or taking on controversial topics. That’s just his style. Rather, this concerns questions of ethics and conflict of interest. Whether these concerns rise to the level of being illegal is another matter. I am not an attorney, but they deserve investigation and they need to be looked into now.
One potential issue is the Attorney General’s relationship with Johnnie Williams. Williams is President of Star Scientific, a supplements manufacturer who has worked hard to ingratiate himself with both the Governor and the Attorney General. The Attorney General owned stock in William’s company and took gifts from him as well. However, there is more to the story than that.
Not too long ago one of Williams’ tobacco warehouses (in an earlier business, he was trying to manufacture a “safe” cigarette) was assessed overdue taxes. Williams maintained this was in error and filed suit against the Commonwealth. So far, so good. However, while the normal practice is for the Virginia Attorney General’s office to act quickly in these matters, from all appearances, they took the go-slow approach.
More than a year passed and no response to the suit. This was highly unusual and arguably beneficial for Williams. Also, the Attorney General, when this case was discussed, didn’t initially recuse himself or even tell his staff of his interest in the company. Cuccinelli’s decision to back away from the case, after media interest, came later.
Also, in almost a sideshow, there is another scandal involving gifts to the governor. This is a more elaborate pattern of gift giving and potential conflicts of interest and you guessed it, it also involves Jonnie Williams. It appears to be a sordid business and the governor has retained counsel, but surprisingly, no where along the line, and this relationship goes back several years, did the attorney general’s office take any interest in the matter.
The concern over the Williams case at the very least raises ethical questions. However, there is even more worrying behavior. In an on-going legal dispute between small landholders seeking royalties they claim are due them by two energy companies, CNX Gas and EQT Production, the companies, in planning their case, got help from the Attorney General’s office. That’s highly unusual. Particularly since the state isn’t a litigant. However, what makes this interesting is that one of these companies is part of a larger conglomerate that gave Cuccinelli’s campaign over $100,000. If true, the actions of the Attorney General’s Office are highly inappropriate. Various state legal authorities and newspapers, from the conservative Richmond Times Dispatch to the Washington Post, have all asked, in their own way, “…what goes on here?”
These are serious issues that raise the question of just what kind of Attorney Generals’ Office Mr. Cuccinelli’s is running. It’s time to clear the air. An independent counsel, making a short and non-partisan investigation, getting it all behind us before election time, would help do this.