The Republican candidate challenging current Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D.) says the large sums of money flowing to Herring from national gun control groups is coming because Herring has proven himself to be a "political animal."
Gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety—funded in large part by former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg—announced on Monday it would be putting an additional $300,000 behind Herring's re-election bid, bringing its total commitment to Herring to $600,000. Everytown has also given a total of $1,100,000 toward electing Democrat Ralph Northam governor and $100,000 toward electing Democrat Justin Fairfax lieutenant governor.
"He is a political animal," said John Adams, a former federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s office running to unseat Herring. "He’s been playing politics with the law in Virginia and it’s just not right."
"He's an ideological warrior in the attorney general's office. He's got a strong ideology and he's not afraid to use the power of his office to further his agenda."
Adams said the support from Everytown is likely a result of Herring's attempt to unilaterally void nearly all of Virginia's gun carry reciprocity agreements with other states last year.
In the wake of Democrats' failure to recapture either the Virginia House of Delegates or the Senate, Herring and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe both took unilateral actions on gun control. Herring's attempt to end the reciprocity agreements was met with backlash.
"Bloomberg was one of Herring’s biggest donors in the last election and then you saw him take this action as attorney general to void our reciprocity agreements for concealed carry permits with other states," Adams said. "Given the fact that Herring did that in his first term, it's not surprising that they're coming back in with significant funding for him in the second go around."
The legislature eventually struck a deal with McAuliffe to reverse Herring's action, strip him of the power to make or eliminate reciprocity deals, and expand the recognition of gun carry permits to all states.
"The move was so extreme that even Terry McAuliffe overruled him, striking a deal with Republicans for a statutory fix to what Herring had done," Adams said.
Adams said Herring’s action on reciprocity deals was one made based on politics, not law.
"It was a pro-active political move at the behest of the anti-gun movement," Adams argued.
"The reason it is appropriate to classify it as a political move, it did not come to Herring’s attention that states were giving people permits in a way that is weaker than the way that Virginia does—there was none of that," he said. "It was instigated by a political, not a factual, mechanism."
"This was a political move by anti-gun groups who came up with this plan to stop reciprocity."
Adams pointed out that the deal between McAuliffe and the legislature was a "stunning rebuke" to Herring, who was left out of the loop on the agreement.
"It's stunning that McAuliffe quickly worked with the Republicans to fix it," Adams said. "They actually broadened reciprocity. The day they rolled that out the attorney general was nowhere to be found on the stage. It was a stunning rebuke to him by his governor."
Adams said the attempt to unilaterally eliminate many of Virginia's gun carry reciprocity deals was just one of many examples of Herring politicizing his office.
"I believe as the attorney general of Virginia you're duty-bound to serve your role as the lawyer for the commonwealth of Virginia and defend the laws the citizens pass through the legislature," he said. "When you're elected as attorney general, you're not elected to be a super legislator."
The best example of Herring's failure to defend Virginia's laws, according to Adams, was when he took his fight to oppose right to work laws in the Supreme Court.
"The best example of Herring's politicization of the office is right to work laws," Adams said. "Virginia has been a right to work state for a long time, and it has had bipartisan support here. Herring went to the Supreme Court and filed an amicus brief saying that California teachers should have been required to join a union to teach kids. He is going to the Supreme Court arguing against the law and policy in Virginia, where we’ve decided to be a right to work state."
Adams said his campaign is focused on restoring the Virginia attorney general's office to what he sees as its proper role and has found the message resonates with Virginians.
"This is the main reason I'm running," he said. "I had concerns when I started that your normal citizens are not going to be deeply involved in understanding the role of attorney general, but I have been amazed at how many do."
"A large number of people know what Herring’s done."
He said Herring's politicization of the office has caused a number of other important issues to fall by the wayside.
"When you're out playing politics and not minding the store, things go south—we have a rise in violent crime, the opioid crisis has gotten significantly worse in Virginia—things seem to be slipping under his watch," Adams said.
The Herring campaign did not respond to an interview request.