- - Friday, September 27, 2013

Ayear ago, when Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for governor of Virginia, was a cog in the Obama campaign, he insisted that Mitt Romney had to come clean with his financial documents. “By not releasing them,” he said, “the imagination runs wild.”

So what is Terry McAuliffe trying to hide now? When he was asked in Wednesday night’s gubernatorial debate why he hasn’t released more of his tax returns, he lapsed into a tap dance. Fred Astaire he is not. “I’ve gone beyond what the last governors have done, when Gov. Kaine, Gov. Warner and Gov. McDonnell ran,” he said. “I’ve gone up and beyond that.” Then he abruptly changed the subject to an attack on his Republican rival, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Our imagination is running wild. Earlier this year, Mr. McAuliffe released a six-page summary of his tax returns, showing that he earned about $16.5 million in the years 2009 through 2011. The summary lacked the detail he insisted Republicans must provide. Even his “modified limited hangout,” as the Nixon White House once called such summaries, was offered only in response to Mr. Cuccinelli’s providing eight years of complete tax returns. His returns showed his income between 2005 and 2012 ranged from a high of $264,296 in 2005 to a low of $134,078 in 2009.

Mr. Cuccinelli should make this a signature campaign issue. “I think now more than ever,” he says, “we need transparency from people who seek to have the trust of the folks of Virginia to assume the office of governor.” He contrasts that with the role Mr. McAuliffe played as fundraiser-in-chief for Bill Clinton, when he “rented out the Lincoln Bedroom [at the White House and] sold seats on Air Force One.”

“If Terry becomes governor,” says Mr. Cuccinelli, “we’ll have to change the state’s motto from ‘Sic semper tyrannis’ to ‘quid pro quo.’” (Thus always to tyrants to something for something.)

An imagination running wild can figure out that what Mr. McAuliffe doesn’t want Virginia voters to know is something seedy if not illegal, something that must not be found out until after the election on Nov. 5. Perhaps he’s concealing donations of his old briefs to charity for a tax deduction, as his onetime boss Bill Clinton did before him. Or maybe it’s further sordid disclosures about his GreenTech Automotive, which is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. McAuliffe was asked Wednesday night how he counters the stereotype of himself as “an operator, a cheerleader, more than a legislator or a governor; that you don’t have the relevant experience to be governor and that you’re a man in a hurry, who’s willing to use political connections, sometimes in very high places, to take shortcuts.”

He replied, without answering the question, that he would bring his “business approach” to the governorship. That sounds nice, but his “business approach” in the past has meant taking shortcuts with his electric-car business, perhaps in violation of the law, perhaps not. But dodging questions doesn’t reassure anyone. It only encourages the imagination to run really, really wild.