GOP Super PAC Takes Aim at McAuliffe, Car Company

America Rising digs through GreenTech's emails.

May 22, 2013, 2:40 PM

May 22, 2013 -- The GOP's newest opposition-research group has found its first target: Terry McAuliffe.

America Rising PAC, a group devoted to researching Democratic candidates, will look to make its mark on the 2013 and 2014 election cycles, supplying the Republican Party's answer to the Democratic research-only super PAC, American Bridge. Former Mitt Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades is leading the effort.

McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman who is running for governor in Virginia, is now getting the America Rising treatment.

The group today posted online 688 pages of emails between Virginia Economic Development Partnership officials and GreenTech Automotive, an electric car company founded by McAuliffe that sought to locate in Virginia in 2009.

The partnership is a board of Virginia business people tasked with luring business to the state.

GreenTech eventually settled elsewhere, and McAuliffe has since stepped away, but GreenTech's rocky history in Virginia has become a political football in McAuliffe's race for governor.

America Rising has also dispatched its first "tracker" to Virginia, to dog McAuliffe at public events.

The GreenTech emails, some of which were obtained by news outlets through Freedom of Information requests and have been reported on, shed more light and lend more context to the Virginia board's skepticism about McAuliffe's company as it sought economic benefits to locate in Virginia in 2009.

GreenTech has already earned McAuliffe criticism after launching its first plant in Mississippi, not Virginia, and McAuliffe has explained that Virginia officials were not interested in the plan.

According to the emails, Virginia officials continued to entertain the company's pitch because then-Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and former president Bill Clinton, whom McAuliffe had approached about the firm, were "involve[d]."

"In short, it involves Terry McAuliffe, Bill Clinton, and of course Gov. Kaine," Economic Development Partnership vice president Paul Grossman wrote in an email dated Sept. 11, 2009

"We have great doubts that it is a legitimate project, but because of the players involved are being responsive."

GreenTech, for its part, says Clinton was not involved in the company, except at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2012. Kaine asked for a briefing on the project, the emails show.

The emails also show more of what has already been reported: that Virginia officials were skeptical of a major prospective funding source for GreenTech, the federal EB-5 visa program, in which foreign investors giving a minimum of $500,000 can obtain a U.S. visa if their investments meet certain job-creation requirements.

GreenTech, which acquired a Hong Kong-based company and moved its operations to the U.S., planned to use that program to entice Chinese investments. Virginia Economic Development Partnership officials expressed skepticism, as GreenTech pressed for the creation of a Virginia-based EB-5 visa "regional center" -- a required third-party entity to facilitate job creation and allow the visas to go through.

The story Republicans have told about GreenTech is one of a shady firm established on shaky business footing, poised to exploit a visa program to secure funding that might not grow it into a legitimate enterprise. McAuliffe and GreenTech have posed it as perfectly normal, ambitious business plan.

The visa program, however, is a federal policy designed to incentivize foreign investment, as laid out online by the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services.

At one point, a Virginia Economic Development Partnership (EDP) official wrote that if GreenTech established the visa program in Virginia, it could give a "black eye" to the state.

"If all, or any significant portion, of the investors were to not ultimately receive the visas, that would give the Commonwealth a black eye, in the view of other companies or investors looking for possible business connections with the Commonwealth," the official wrote in an email.

In another email, Liz Povar, the VEDP vice president of business expansion, wrote that, "I maintain serious concerns about the establishment of an EB-5 center in general ... but also still can't get my head around this being anything other than a visa-for-sale scheme with potential national security implications that we have no way to confirm or discount ... I am not willing to stake Virginia's reputation on this at this juncture."

Partnership officials also raised concerns that GreenTech lacked a distribution network and had overestimated revenues.

The investment group "has no demonstrated ability to run an automotive company," VEDP official Mike Lehmkuhler wrote in an October 2009 email.

GreenTech, meanwhile, told ABC News that the economic development group simply wasn't interested in helping a startup.

"If we were where we are now, they would probably welcome us more sincerely," GreenTech CEO Charles Wang told ABC, recounting VEDP's general lack of interest in GreenTech when he met with officials in Richmond. VEDP later apologized to Wang for derogatory comments an employee made about him in emails.

McAuliffe resigned from the board in December. Wang said the company wished him well as he departed to run for governor, and while there don't seem to be any hard feelings with McAuliffe, Wang acknowledged that McAuliffe's campaign has exposed the company to political criticism.

Ultimately, GreenTech went elsewhere, launching operations in Mississippi, where it employs about 100 people. When asked about his decision to open a plant in another state, rather than the one in which he's running, McAuliffe has said that GreenTech approached VEDP and that officials were not interested in bringing the car company to Virginia.

While officials expressed initial interest, and provided GreenTech with a set of possible locations, their conclusion matches McAuliffe's explanation that GreenTech was turned down.

Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is running against McAuliffe for governor, has used GreenTech to attack his candidacy. Now, America Rising will help Republicans dig through more of McAuliffe's past and promote the most salacious bits of GreenTech's messy history in Virginia.

This story has been updated.

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