An issue more than three years old is becoming the latest political hot topic in the race for governor.
Millions of dollars in natural gas royalties in southwest Virginia are pitting landowners against gas companies. And now, in its latest political attack ad, the Terry McAuliffe campaign is using that dispute to attack its opponent Ken Cuccinelli.
It says Cuccinelli's office inappropriately advised one of the out-of-state gas companies involved in a class-action lawsuit with Virginia landowners, over a reported $28 million in gas royalties. After emails surfaced between a staff member in the attorney general's office and Consol Energy, Democratic State Senator Phillip Puckett asked the state inspector general to look into the case.
"We're trying to make sure that the federal class action suit has a chance to move forward," Puckett said.
Cuccinelli said Tuesday his office did nothing wrong, adding, "…they're going to find that our office acted appropriately."
Puckett, who represents part of the region affected by the royalties case, says his request for an investigation was outside the scope of the 2013 governor's race.
"My intentions in this to begin with were not about politics," he said, "and the inspector general's made it pretty clear that it's not a political witch hunt for them…"
But that hasn't stopped Democrats from trying to make this a new political issue in the race. They point out Cuccinelli's campaign has received more than $100,000 from Consol Energy.
Meanwhile, Republicans are striking back at Sen. Puckett, who works for the firm responsible for managing the millions of dollars in unpaid royalties. They say he and the firm stand to benefit financially as the legal battle stretches on.
"Some people would say I have a vested interest in that," Puckett said. "My number one priority...has been to help people get their money out of escrow. I wish the escrow account were empty today."
Inspector General Michael Morehart told NBC29 Wednesday he has nothing more to add about the ongoing investigation.