Politics

McAuliffe ‘green’ car company tries to muzzle journalists

McAuliffe 'green' car company tries to muzzle journalists

RICHMOND — A fledgling electric car company founded by Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe has sued Watchdog.org following an investigation highlighting the automaker’s use of a controversial government “cash-for-visas” immigration program.

GreenTech Automotive Inc. blames Watchdog for an alleged $85-million loss after publication of two articles detailing the woes of the government immigration program, called EB-5. In one article, a financial expert criticized the EB-5 program as “a fraud.” EB-5 has repeatedly come under fire for lax oversight. An Illinois program was recently the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission probe.

The EB-5 program was created in 1990, and offers green cards to foreign nationals who invest at least $500,000 in U.S. companies to create 10 or more jobs.

“Specifically, as a direct and express result of the articles published by Defendants … investors are wavering in their commitment to provide $25 million in investments already promised to GTA,” the lawsuit said. “GTA…intended to raise $60 million in capital, (and) is now in significant danger as a direct result of the loss of investor confidence in GTA arising from the publication of Defendants’ articles.”

Jason Stverak, president of Watchdog’s parent company the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, said the lawsuit is baseless.

“As Watchdog explained in clarifications and updated versions of the articles posted on April 5, these articles were not intended to – and did not – accuse GreenTech of fraud,” Stverak said. “We are confident that GreenTech’s claims are without merit and we will continue to report on this important story.”

GTA counts among its allies Hillary Clinton’s brother, Anthony Rodham, who shares an office with GTA and is CEO of Gulf Coast Funds Management, an EB-5 center that raises visa-investor money for GTA. McAuliffe also was chief fundraiser for Clinton’s presidential bid. Bill Clinton made a high-profile visit to the company last year.

The lawsuit, accusing Watchdog of defamation and interference with business relations, was filed Monday in Mississippi where GTA says it plans to build an auto plant. On April 1 and 3, Watchdog detailed the travails of McAuliffe’s car company funding and challenges to enter the marketplace by next year. The lawsuit also names two web sites that ran the Watchdog story, one in Chinese.

In response to McAuliffe’s 2009 request for public support of GreenTech Automotive in his home state of Virginia, then-Gov. Tim Kaine’s administration expressed “grave doubts” about the project’s viability, according to documents obtained by Watchdog.org, National Review and Washington Post.

GTA president Charles Wang could not be reached for comment.

Tori Richards is a reporter for Watchdog.org, a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Contact him at tori@watchdog.org.

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