McAuliffe feels heat over GreenTech resignation

FREDERICKSBURG ??? In a quiet resignation that became public only Friday, GreenTech Automotive founder Terry McAuliffe stepped down as chairman more than four months ago.

Politico reported that McAuliffe???s resignation was accepted by president/CEO Charles Wang in a letter dated Dec. 1.

But the nascent electric-car company and McAuliffe, who is in the midst of his second bid for Virginia governor, kept the news to themselves until Friday.

The delay and the lack of corporate transparency drew criticism from a business ethicist, who said McAuliffe & Co. have more explaining to do.

As recently as last week, McAuliffe fielded reporters??? questions about GreenTech without mentioning he was no longer chairman.

GreenTech has yet to issue a press release about McAuliffe???s departure. Yet on Jan. 22, McAuliffe continued to claim a personal leadership role at GTA during a ???Business Day at the Capitol??? gathering in Richmond.

???I???m building electric cars now,??? he told the forum, sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Business. reported Thursday that the McLean-based firm had scrubbed McAuliffe???s name and pictures from its website. He was not available at the headquarters when a Watchdog reporter went to GreenTech???s office last Tuesday. Neither he nor GreenTech executives responded to Watchdog???s repeated requests for interviews.

Speaking to reporters in Richmond last week about his business ventures, McAuliffe obliquely noted, ???Some businesses work, some don???t.??? He did not elaborate.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli???s campaign jumped on the news, saying McAuliffe???s move ???devastated??? the Democrat???s claim of being a successful entrepreneur and job creator.

???Terry McAuliffe???s walking away as chairman of GreenTech Auto undercuts what was supposed to be his chief qualification for office,??? said Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix.

???His sudden and shady resignation exposes the fact that all the hype and fanfare was nothing more than smoke and mirrors for a business that has always been more about keeping McAuliffe in the headlines than creating jobs.???

McAuliffe communications director Brennan Bilberry told Politico that his boss???s resignation from GreenTech highlighted a commitment to the gubernatorial campaign.

???Unlike Ken Cuccinelli, who broke with Virginia tradition and continues to accept a full-time taxpayer salary for being a part-time attorney general, Terry has been focused on running for governor full-time as he travels around the commonwealth to hear the best mainstream ideas to grow Virginia???s economy,??? Bilberry said.

Wang???s Dec. 1 letter was dated nine days before began a series of investigative articles on the company, which plans to build a car-manufacturing plant in Mississippi.

David Brat, chairman of the business and economics department at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., told Watchdog that McAuliffe???s venture ??? and his quiet withdrawal ??? was ???more about politics than business.???

In terms of economic justice, ???The Democratic Party view is that business has a public commitment beyond profit maximization. So if they raise the ethical bar in this way, then McAuliffe should simply explain what ethics he follows and why his move makes sense within that system,??? said Brat, who teaches economics and ethics.

???Crony capitalism must be out and trust must be in if one wants to maintain this more robust view of ethical business. It would be great to hear our political leaders lay out their ethical commitments in very clear terms. That has been missing on all sides.

???In terms of McAuliffe???s sin of omission, the basic little lesson that every student of business ethics remembers is ??? don???t do it if you don???t want it on the front page of the New York Times,??? Brat concluded.

On Saturday, McAuliffe told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he ???told everyone who asked??? about his status at GreenTech.

But McAuliffe appeared as ???chairman of GreenTech Automotive??? when he spoke at the Green Energy Business Seminar and Trade Show on Jan. 9 in Fairfax.

Kenric Ward is a national reporter for and chief of the Virginia Bureau. Contact him at @Kenricward