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USA; Terry McAuliffe faces scrutiny for electric car company

BEFORE HE first ran for governor of Virginia, in 2009, Terry McAuliffe launched a company whose purpose, at least ostensibly, was to manufacture small, low-speed, battery-powered cars. Think of golf carts suitable for puttering around the neighborhood or to the grocery store. Now that venture has made Mr. McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor this year, the target of questions, some specious, some not.

Mr. McAuliffe formed the company, GreenTech Automotive, as the recession hit. Part of his strategy was to seek financing from deep-pocketed foreigners who would pony up $500,000 each through a federal program designed to attract investors by offering them U.S. visas in return for their money.

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The Democratic candidate for governor in Virginia faces scrutiny for an electric car company.

There is nothing illegal in that 20-year-old program. Although it has been subject to periodic abuse, the so-called EB-5 visa program enjoys bipartisan support as a way to attract capital from overseas. To qualify for visas, EB-5 investors must show that their money will help create at least 10 jobs.

Hoping for state support, GreenTech courted economic development officials in Virginia. They were skeptical, noting that the company didn’t seem to have much experience in the automobile business; some wondered if it was mainly a scheme to sell visas. Facing those doubts, GreenTech took its business to Mississippi, which in 2009 promised $5 million in state support.

GreenTech has since produced a few hundred vehicles at a temporary plant; with an investment of $34 million, it says it is building a permanent factory, set to open next year in Tunica, Miss. The firm says it has contracts to produce 30,000 cars over three years.

Republicans first attacked Mr. McAuliffe for doing business outside Virginia. Horrors! That dovetailed with their portrayal of him as a carpetbagger — even though he’s lived in Virginia for more than 20 years — but otherwise was absurd.


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