Va. gubernatorial candidates spar on transparency

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RICHMOND — Terry McAuliffe and Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II used a forum in Richmond on Thursday hosted by an open-government watchdog group to ding one another on, perhaps fittingly, on a purported lack of transparency thus far in the Virginia governor’s race.

Mr. Cuccinelli, the state’s Republican attorney general, reiterated his call for 15 debates across Virginia and for Mr. McAuliffe to release more of his tax returns, while Mr. McAuliffe, a businessman and former Democratic National Committee chairman, jabbed at his opponent for failing to disclose stock holdings and gifts he received from a nutrition supplement company embroiled in a legal struggle with the state.

With regard to the debates, Mr. McAuliffe said after the forum that he has agreed to five — in line with the traditional number for statewide campaigns — and that that’s what he’ll be sticking with. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, had four general election debates against Republican George Allen during their U.S. Senate race last year. The candidates at Thursday’s event did not engage each other and took turns appearing before the audience.

Mr. Cuccinelli stressed that he has allowed reporters to examine eight years of his tax returns, though he did not release them outright. Mr. McAuliffe has released three years of tax summaries.

“I did it because I believe voters deserve a thorough look at both candidates and the decisions that we’ve made in our own lives,” Mr. Cuccinelli told the crowd at a luncheon hosted by the Virginia Public Access Project in Richmond. “It’s not a gimmick. It’s not a trick. It’s important.”

But Mr. McAuliffe, speaking to reporters after the event, put the onus back on Mr. Cuccinelli.

“Let’s be honest: He didn’t fill out the forms as he was required to do by law,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “He did not disclose his stock interests in Star Scientific. He did not disclose over $18,000 in gifts. So before you come back and ask me, he has not done what he was required to do by law and disclose the gifts he received from Star Scientific.”

Indeed, Mr. Cuccinelli amended his financial disclosure statements last month to add about $5,000 worth of gifts from Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie R. Williams in addition to about $13,000 he had previously disclosed, calling it an inadvertent mistake. He also recently recused himself from a case in which the company sued the state two years ago over a tax assessment.

“You think I enjoyed that? I didn’t,” said Mr. Cuccinelli, who has said the stock issue was also an inadvertent oversight and that it was quickly corrected once he discovered it. “But you gotta own up to those mistakes when you make them. It should be part of the process.”

He also said he hasn’t spoken with Mr. Williams in months.

Meanwhile, the FBI is reportedly looking into the relationship between Mr. Williams and the family of Gov. Bob McDonnell after it surfaced that the governor signed a $15,000 check from Mr. Williams to cover the catering costs for his daughter’s wedding.

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, said last month that neither Mr. Williams nor any other benefactors have received special treatment during his time in office and that he saw it as a gift for his daughter, which by law would not have to be disclosed.

Mr. McAuliffe, meanwhile, devoted much of his speech Thursday to the economy, transportation, education and health care. He received applause from the crowd when he mentioned he was glad to support a push by Mr. McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, for a $6 billion transportation package that Mr. Cuccinelli had opposed during this year’s legislative session.

He also said the state cannot grow its economy with a “social, ideological agenda” and “divisive rhetoric.”

Democrats have hit Mr. Cuccinelli for, among other things, signing off on regulations that impose hospitallike restrictions on abortion clinics in the state as part of a law passed in 2011 by the General Assembly. And E.W. Jackson, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, has come under fire recently for statements that include his saying that “Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was.”

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