ALEXANDRIA—The controversy over whether Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office acted inappropriately by corresponding with out-of-state energy companies in a legal dispute with residents in southwest Virginia over natural gas royalties added one more layer on Thursday.
In a conference call with reporters, Republican Party of Virginia spokesman Garren Shipley, accompanied by state Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Galax, and Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, said the Democratic state senator who called for an independent investigation into Cuccinelli’s relationship with the companies has a financial interest in the case.
Shipley said Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, should have told the public that he is an official at the bank that manages an escrow account holding nearly $28 million in disputed natural gas royalties, Shipley said. And by supporting a class-action lawsuit against the companies, Shipley said the case could drag on, increasing the interest payments in the account.
“Before Phil Puckett called for an investigation, should he have revealed his own interest in this case?” Shipley said.
Puckett, vice president of business development at First Bank and Trust Co., said, he isn’t involved in the account.
“I understand politics, and they can do whatever they want,” Puckett said in an interview with the Washington Post. “I would welcome anyone that wants to contact the Inspector General’s office to go ahead.”
But of course, Cuccinelli has his own financial interests in this battle. CONSOL Energy, one of the companies involved in the dispute, has donated well over $100,000 to Republican Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign directly.
It’s just the latest sticky situation for Cuccinelli, already under intense scrutiny for his ties to pharmaceutical company Star Scientific.
Most recently, Democrats have nailed Cuccinelli and his office for reportedly aiding lawyers for EQT Production Co. and CONSOL, two Pennsylvania energy companies, in their dispute with Virginia landowners who say the companies cheated them out of royalty payments.
Republicans on Thursday defended the attorney general.
“He has the legal obligation to protect our Virginia statute from legal threats, and that’s what he’s been doing,” Kilgore said.
But, Kilgore said he has no problem with the Office of the Inspector General investigating the matter.
“I have no problem with that. If they do (investigate), they’re going to find that the attorney general’s office acted in good faith and according to law,” Kilgore said.
— Kathryn Watson