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The attorney general and gubernatorial candidate is covered by the state sunshine law whether he thinks so or not.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Virginia’s top lawyer is not above the law. Nor is Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli just doing his constituents a favor when he responds to requests for public records.
Cuccinelli’s startling epiphany that he is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act came at a convenient moment. He is running for governor while being pelted with questions about his relationship with a businessman who has a pending dispute over state taxes.
It was tempting for Cuccinelli to slather himself in a potent Scandal Proof Formula to shield himself from the state sunshine law. But the arrogance of the proclamation, not to mention its nonsensical legal justification, forced him to back down this week.
The Republican issued a statement Monday saying he has asked attorneys in his office to stop claiming in FOIA responses that the office is exempt. Notice he did not affirm that he is subject to the law. He merely promises not to keep saying that he’s immune or, at least, he won’t keep putting the outrageous claim in writing to avoid “confusion.” Cuccinelli’s staff have continued to respond to information requests while clarifying that they are doing so “as a courtesy.”
If Cuccinelli was attempting to tamp down suspicions about his involvement with Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr., he has failed. Instead, he is acting like a man who has something to hide.
So far, Cuccinelli has admitted that he forgot to report two free vacation stays at Williams’ Smith Mountain Lake home, one of which included a catered Thanksgiving dinner. He also was late to disclose stock holdings in Star Scientific because he failed to notice that its value had topped $10,000, triggering reporting laws. This week, he acknowledged that Williams complained to him about a state tax bill before filing the lawsuit that has now been languishing in court for two years.
When will the next turkey drumstick drop? Never, Cuccinelli says. He told Roanoke Times reporter David Ress he took no action on Williams’ behalf, end of story. If so, he should be eager to put lingering questions to rest by fully disclosing all communications he and his staff have had with Williams, as well as any contacts with Gov. Bob McDonnell on the tax suit.
Instead, his office said Tuesday no such records exist and documents related to Cuccinelli’s stock and vacations were personal, not public.
After notifying Ress that the office charges $53.65 per hour to process documents, the fee was waived. As a courtesy, we assume.
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