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Cuccinelli town halls criticized as campaign stumping

Rosalind Helderman

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) is coming under fire for mixing politics and official state business at town hall meetings in southwest Virginia later this week.

Cuccinelli is holding the public meetings in Abingdon and Rocky Mount on Thursday. According to e-mails and tweets from the attorney general, meeting topics will include utility rates and a proposed federal bill that would regulate greenhouse gas emissions, known widely as "cap and trade."

The bill happens to be a big campaign issue in the hot congressional races between U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher (D) and state Del. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) in the 9th district and between U.S. Rep Tom Perriello (D) and State Sen. Robert Hurt (R-Pittsylvania). And the two town halls happen to be taking place in those districts.

But the events are being billed as official attorney general office events, not campaign stops, paid for with taxpayer dollars. And Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein rejected any suggestion that the events are designed to affect the congressional campaigns.

Gottstein said Abingdon and Rocky Mount were chosen because they haven't gotten much attention from the attorney general in his previous trips around the state. They're also both in the service area of electricity provider APCO. Cuccinelli represented citizens in July as APCO sought a rate increase in July.

As for cap and trade, Gottstein called the bill a "huge issue for all Virginians if it passes, but especially in Southwest Virginia, where its impact will be particularly harmful because of its potentially large taxes on coal use." He said it made sense to discuss the bill, currently languishing in Congress, in the context of a broader discussion of utility rates.

But that explanation has not gone over well with environmentalists. Glen Besa, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, said the status of the meetings has become even more confused this week, when some residents received a recorded phone message from the attorney general, encouraging them to attend. Those calls were paid for by Cuccinelli's campaign account, political director Noah Wall confirmed.

"He's spending taxpayer money to rally his people," Besa said. "The Attorney General of Virginia should not be mixing politics with his serious responsibility as Attorney General. This sounds like nothing more than a campaign stop, and that's just not right."

The town halls also drew some strong words from the editorial staff of the Roanoke Times, which said Cuccinelli would use them to "to veer from his official purview and focus on one of his party's campaign talking points."

Gottstein said public money was used to circulate e-mails inviting residents to the meetings were sent from the attorney general's office but Cuccinelli turned to his PAC to fund 20,000 phone calls because of budget cuts in his office. Wall said the calls went to a random selection of local residents and not to a list of Cuccinelli supporters.

"E-mail invitations and phone calls both went to citizens, chambers of commerce, the NFIB, local boards of supervisors, and to state legislators, regardless of their political affiliation. We expect a good cross-section of the communities at both town halls," Gottstein said.

He declined to respond directly to the Roanoke Times editorial, but said of the meetings, "Honestly, I cannot figure out why media outlets would try to gin up a complaint about these meetings. Do they think that places in Southwest Virginia deserve any less attention from the attorney general than do Northern Virginia, Central Virginia, or elsewhere?"

By Rosalind Helderman  |  August 31, 2010; 2:38 PM ET
Categories:  Ken Cuccinelli , Morgan Griffith , Rick Boucher , Robert Hurt , Rosalind Helderman , Tom Perriello  
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Cuccinelli is right up there with SC's US Senate candidate Alvin Greene.

Posted by: edismae | August 31, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Guess who is running for Governor? Wants to keep VA. in the 18th century.

Posted by: jckdoors | August 31, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

"Keep" VA in the 18th century?

What an improvement that would be over the dark ages they're living in now.

Posted by: bflorhodes | August 31, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Virginia AG Cuccinelli mixing politics and official state business? And the news is? This is the man who mixed VA politics and global climate change, VA politics and immigration, etc.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | August 31, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Get a life leftists..

Posted by: wewintheylose | August 31, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

I want to know how the heck Ken Cuccinelli's wife handles raising SEVEN children while he juggles a four hour commute daily. I would love to be a fly on the wall in that household. How do you preach family values when you are not even around for your family?

Posted by: slydell | September 1, 2010 1:01 AM | Report abuse

Attention Virginians: Look carefully at Kookinelli:

He is dangerous to your legal rights and your welfare.
An ultra-conservative ideologue with a personal agenda that will impose his own version of Sharia law on the women of your state as well as his religious beliefs on all of you.

He literally has ZERO understanding of the US Constitution. It's bad enough you elected this dangerous man as the head of your legal system but his career needs to end in VA!

Did any of you do ANY research on this guy before you voted or does the entire state suffer from Obama Derangement Syndrome?

Posted by: suec716 | September 1, 2010 6:58 AM | Report abuse

What is wrong with this man? He politicizes everything and cannot carry out his duties as attorney general in any kind of even-handed way.

Posted by: yh132 | September 1, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

When is Koo-Kooo-Neli not doing something political with taxpayer dollars? !! He's sure not fighting crime in VA!

Posted by: 10bestfan | September 1, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

This man is dumber than a fence post. When his headquarters was in my building, he and his servants couldn't read/be bothered with the signs probiting parking in reserved spaces. Even after the campaign head put signs on the doors to remind his minions, they kept parking there.

Common curtesy is for the little people.

Posted by: RogerRamjet2 | September 1, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

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