Throughout McAulliffe's term in office, the state had a Republican-controlled legislature and McAulliffe issued a record number of vetoes for a Virginia governor. Because of this partisan division, he was unable to achieve many of his legislative goals, principal among them Medicaid expansion, which was later enacted by Northam. As governor, McAuliffe focused heavily on economic development and restored voting rights to a record number of released felons. During his final year in office, he responded to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, condemning the rally and calling for the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces throughout Virginia; Northam began the removal of these monuments a few years later. McAuliffe left office with high approval ratings, though not as high as his immediate predecessors.
Early life and education
McAuliffe was born and raised in Syracuse, New York, the son of Mildred Katherine (née Lonergan) and Jack McAuliffe. His father was a real estate agent and local Democratic politician. The family is of Irish descent.
At the age of 14, McAuliffe started his first business, McAuliffe Driveway Maintenance, sealing driveways and parking lots.
In 1985, McAuliffe helped found the Federal City National Bank, a Washington, D.C.–based local bank. In January 1988, when he was thirty years old, the bank's board elected him as chairman, making him the youngest chairman in the United States Federal Reserve Bank's charter association.: 75–76 In 1991, he negotiated a merger with Credit International Bank, which he called his "greatest business experience." He became the vice-chairman of the newly merged bank.
In 1979, McAuliffe met Richard Swann, a lawyer who was in charge of the fundraising for Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign in Florida. In 1988, he married Swann's daughter, Dorothy. In 1991, the Resolution Trust Corporation, a federal agency, took over the assets and liabilities of Swann's American Pioneer Savings Bank. Under Swann's guidance, McAuliffe purchased some of American Pioneer's real estate from the Resolution Trust Corporation. His equal partner in the deal was a pension fund controlled by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). They purchased real estate valued at $50 million for $38.7 million; McAuliffe received a 50% equity stake. In 1996, he acquired a distressed housebuilding company, American Heritage Homes, which was on the brink of bankruptcy. He served as chairman of American Heritage. By 1998, he had built American Heritage Homes into one of Central Florida's biggest homebuilding companies. By 1999, the company was building more than 1,000 single family homes per year. In late 2002, KB Home bought American Heritage Homes for $74 million.
In 1997, McAuliffe invested $100,000 as an angel investor in Global Crossing, a Bermuda–registered telecommunications company. Global Crossing went public in 1998. In 1999, he sold most of his holdings for $8.1 million.
In 2009, McAuliffe joined GreenTech Automotive, a holding company, which purchased Chinese electric car company EU Auto MyCar for $20 million in May 2010. Later that year, he relocated GreenTech's headquarters to McLean, Virginia, and the manufacturing plant was later based in Mississippi. In December 2012, he announced his resignation from GreenTech to focus on his run for governor of Virginia. In 2013, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigated GreenTech Automotive and McAuliffe for visa fraud. He attempted to gain tax credits from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), the state's business recruitment agency, to build GreenTech Automotive's factory in Virginia. He refused to supply the VEDP with proper documentation of their business strategy and investors, which caused the VEDP to decline economic incentives for GreenTech Automotive. He later falsely claimed during his gubernatorial run that the VEDP was uncooperative and uninterested in GreenTech Automotive. In 2017, GreenTech Automotive investors sued McAuliffe for fraud, with the firm declaring bankruptcy in 2018. He gave 32 wealthy Chinese nationals EB-5 visas in exchange for $560,000 investments into GreenTech Automotive, which exceeded the Department of Homeland Security's determined quota for GreenTech Automotive.
According to The Washington Post, he has "earned millions as a banker, real estate developer, home builder, hotel owner, and internet venture capitalist."
Early political career
Relationship with the Clintons
McAuliffe had a prolific fundraising career within the Democratic Party and a personal and political relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton. McAuliffe and his staff raised $275 million, then an unprecedented amount, for Clinton's causes while president. After Bill Clinton's tenure ended, he guaranteed the Clintons' $1.35 million mortgage for their home in Chappaqua, New York. The deal raised ethical questions. In 1999, he served as chairman of America's Millennium Celebration under Clinton. In 2000, he chaired a fundraiser with the Clintons to benefit Vice President Al Gore, setting a fundraising record of $26.3 million.
McAuliffe told to The New York Times in 1999, "I've met all of my business contacts through politics. It's all interrelated." When he meets a new business contact, he continued, "Then I raise money from them." He acknowledged that the success of his business dealings stemmed partly from his relationship with Bill Clinton, saying, "No question, that's a piece of it." He also credited his ties to former congressmen Dick Gephardt and Tony Coelho, his Rolodex of 5,000-plus names, and his ability to personally relate to people. In 2004, he was one of the five-member board of directors of the Clinton Foundation. He told New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich in 2012 that his Rolodex held 18,632 names.
2000 Democratic National Convention
In June 2000, as organizers of the 2000 Democratic National Convention were working to raise $7 million, convention chairman Roy Romer resigned to become superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. McAuliffe immediately accepted appointment as Romer's replacement when asked on a phone call by presumptive presidential nominee Al Gore. Already in the news for a record $26 million fundraiser with Bill Clinton the month prior, he promised that money would be a "non-issue" for the convention, and that the outstanding $7 million would be raised "very quickly". Many in the party praised his selection, which was widely seen to represent the growth in his influence, with James Carville telling The New York Times that "his stock is trading at an all-time high".
Chair of the Democratic National Committee
In February 2001, McAuliffe was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and served until February 2005. During his tenure, the DNC raised $578 million and emerged from debt for the first time in its history. Prior to serving as chairman of the DNC, he served as chairman of the DNC Business Leadership Forum in 1993 and as the DNC finance chairman in 1994.: 88, 210
In 2001, McAuliffe founded the Voting Rights Institute. In June 2001, he announced the founding of the Hispanic Voter Outreach Project to reach more Hispanic voters.: 296–297 The same year, he founded the Women's Vote Center to educate, engage and mobilize women at the local level to run for office.: 297
In the period between the elections of 2002 and the 2004 Democratic convention, the DNC rebuilt operations and intra-party alliances. McAuliffe worked to restructure the Democratic primary schedule, allowing Arizona, Michigan, New Mexico, and South Carolina to vote earlier; the move provided African-American and Hispanic/Latino communities as well as labor unions greater inclusion in presidential primaries. According to The Washington Post, the move bolstered United States Senator John Kerry's fundraising efforts. The DNC rebuilt its headquarters and McAuliffe built the Democratic Party's first National Voter File, a computer database of more than 175 million names known as "Demzilla." During the 2004 election cycle, the DNC hosted six presidential debates for the first time.
As chairman, McAuliffe championed direct mail and online donations and built a small donor base that eliminated the party's debt and, according to The Washington Post, "could potentially power the party for years". Under his leadership, the DNC raised a total of $248 million from donors giving $25,000 or less during the 2003–2004 election cycle.
In January 2005, a few weeks before his term ended, McAuliffe earmarked $5 million of the party's cash to assist Tim Kaine and other Virginia Democrats in their upcoming elections. This donation was the largest non-presidential disbursement in DNC history, and was part of his attempt to prove Democratic viability in Southern states in the wake of the 2004 presidential election. Kaine was successful in his bid, and served as the governor of Virginia from 2006 to 2010.
On November 10, 2008, McAuliffe formed an exploratory committee for the Virginia gubernatorial election in 2009. According to The Washington Post, he believed he would prevail "because he [could] campaign as a business leader who can bring jobs to Virginia." He also cited his ability to raise money for down-ticket Democratic candidates. He raised over $7.5 million during the campaign and donated an additional $500,000 to himself.
On November 8, 2012, McAuliffe emailed supporters announcing his intention to run for governor of Virginia in 2013. In his email he stated, "It is absolutely clear to me that Virginians want their next Governor to focus on job creation and common sense fiscal responsibility instead of divisive partisan issues."
On April 2, 2013, McAuliffe became the Democratic nominee, as he ran unopposed. In the general, he campaigned against Republican nominee (and sitting attorney general of Virginia) Ken Cuccinelli, and Libertarian nominee Robert Sarvis. He won 47.8% of the vote; Cuccinelli and Sarvis garnered 45.2% and 6.5%, respectively. He broke a 40-year trend and was the first candidate of the sitting president's party elected governor of Virginia since 1973.
McAuliffe took the oath of office on January 11, 2014. Following the ceremony, he signed four executive orders, including one instituting a ban on gifts over $100 to members of the administration, and an order prohibiting discrimination against state employees for sexual orientation and gender identity. The other executive orders dealt with government continuity.
As governor, McAuliffe issued a record 120 vetoes. He vetoed more bills than his three predecessors combined. He vetoed bills mainly concerning social legislation, including abortion and LGBT rights, along with the environment and voting rights. Throughout his term, the state legislature did not overturn any of the vetoes he issued. During his tenure, Virginia collected more than $20 billion in new capital investment, $7 billion more than any previous governor. He participated in more than 35 trade and marketing missions to five continents, more than any other preceding governor, to promote state tourism and other products.
During his term, unemployment fell from 5.7% to 3.3% and personal income rose by 14.19%.PolitiFact noted McAuliffe, like many other governors, had little control over their state's economic performance, with Virginia's economy following national trends. That year, he was also named one of StateScoop's State Executives of the year. From 2015 and even into 2021, he has repeated false claims that he "inherited" a budget deficit for his tenure, when in fact the previous governor left two balanced budgets bills based on anticipated revenues, but subsequent economic issues caused revenue to fall.
After the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates blocked his plans to expand Medicaid, McAuliffe unveiled his own plan titled "A Healthy Virginia." He authorized four emergency regulations and issued one executive order allowing for use of federal funds (made available by the Affordable Care Act to any state seeking to expand its Medicaid program to increase the number of poor citizens who had access to health insurance). His last hope for full Medicaid expansion ended when a Democratic state senator, Phillip Puckett of Russell County, resigned from his Republican-leaning seat. As a result, Virginia Democrats' razor-thin majority in the state senate flipped in favor of the Republicans, giving them control of both chambers of the state's legislature.
In April 2016, McAuliffe signed an executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 ex-offenders in Virginia who had completed their prison sentences and periods of parole or probation. The order allowed this group to register to vote. Virginia was, at the time, one of 12 states with lifetime felon disenfranchisement, barring ex-offenders from voting even after their sentences are complete.
McAuliffe's order was initially overturned by the Supreme Court of Virginia, which ruled that the Constitution of Virginia did not allow the governor to grant blanket pardons and restorations of rights. In August 2016, he announced that he had restored the voting rights to almost 13,000 felons individually using an autopen. Republican leadership in the state filed a contempt-of-court motion against McAuliffe for the action, which the court dismissed. By the end of his term, he had restored voting rights for 173,000 released felons, more than any governor in U.S. history. The blanket restoration was controversial; several Democratic Commonwealth's Attorneys opposed McAuliffe's blanket restoration, including Theo Stamos of Arlington County and Falls Church City, Ray Morrogh of Fairfax County, and Paul Ebert of Prince William County. Progressive challengers Steve Descano and Parisa Dehghani-Tafti supported by McAuliffe defeated Stamos and Morrogh, respectively, in primary elections in 2019; Ebert retired.
On May 23, 2016, CNN reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating McAuliffe "over whether donations to his gubernatorial campaign violated the law." One example cited was a $120,000 donation from Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang. According to CNN, Wang's status as a legal permanent resident of the United States could make the donation legal under U.S. election law.
While describing himself as "personally opposed" to death penalty, McAuliffe, presided over the three last executions carried in Virginia, before it was abolished in 2021 under his successor Ralph Northam. He also commuted two death sentences, that of Ivan Teleguz and William Joseph Burns.
Unite the Right rally
McAuliffe was governor during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville Virginia. He condemned the rally saying, "I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple: Go home. . . . There is no place for you here, there is no place for you in America." Although at the start of his governorship, McAuliffe was opposed to removing Confederate monuments from public spaces, he reversed his position after the rally.
After the 2016 presidential election, McAuliffe was viewed as a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. In 2017, McAuliffe's confidantes told The Hill he was "seriously considering a 2020 presidential run." McAuliffe told a group of union leaders "If I can wrestle an alligator, I can certainly wrestle Donald Trump," referencing his wrestling match with an alligator to secure a political donation. In April 2019, McAuliffe announced that he would not pursue the presidency in 2020 and would focus on supporting Democrats in the 2019 Virginia elections.
McAuliffe initially called for Governor Ralph Northam to resign in 2019 after a photo on his 1984 medical-school yearbook page showed a photo of a man in blackface; Northam issued an apology, and McAuliffe later dropped calls for Northam's resignation. McAuliffe called for Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax's resignation following several allegations of sexual assault against Fairfax came-to-light in 2019; Fairfax called him a "racist" for supporting his accusers. Later, while running against McAuliffe in Virginia's 2021 Democratic gubernatorial primary, Fairfax compared his treatment from McAuliffe to the murders of George Floyd and Emmett Till. Fairfax's comments were condemned by leaders of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which had also called for Fairfax's resignation. Democrat Doug Wilder, who served as Virginia's first Black governor, criticized McAuliffe, arguing that he acted inconsistently on race issues, Wilder also said that McAuliffe pushed aside Black politicians.
In 2015, McAuliffe called for Joe Morrissey's resignation from the House of Delegates, after it was revealed that Morrissey had sex with his 17-year-old part-time receptionist. (Morrissey and the receptionist later married, and had three children.) The episode left Morrissey as a pariah among fellow Democrats, and Morrissey resigned from the state House. However, Morrissey later made a political comeback, and after unseating a Democratic incumbent in a primary, gained the support of Virginia Democrats, including McAuliffe, who helped raise money for Morrissey in the 2019 elections. Former Delegate Lashrecse Aird, who lost her House seat in 2021 while on the ballot with McAuliffe, has launched a primary challenge against Morrissey to unseat him in 2023.
Despite the extreme rarity of second-term governors in Virginia (which only allows former governors to run for governor, again, after another has served in that role) — and despite calls from within Virginia's Democratic party for McAuliffe to stand aside in the 2021 governors' race, to allow two black female Democratic legislators to compete to become the nation's first black woman governor — in December 2020, McAuliffe announced his campaign for governor.
On June 8, 2021, he won the Democratic primary, garnering 62% of the vote, defeating four other candidates, and winning each city and locality in the state.
Consistent with his past campaigns, McAuliffe had a backslapping, gregarious campaign style. McAuliffe campaigned on his economic record from his term as governor, supporting infrastructure improvements, voting rights, and Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan.
Education policy was an important factor in the election. McAuliffe criticized Youngkin for running a campaign ad with a supporter who attempted to banToni Morrison's novel Beloved from Virginia schools.
When asked during a debate to explain his veto of a bill that, in the words of The Washington Post, would have allowed "parents to remove books they objected to from school libraries or curriculums", McAuliffe responded, "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach". Although this comment proved unpopular with voters, The Washington Post published an analysis finding that McAuliffe's stance on education likely had little impact on how parents voted. In election exit polls, more than 8 in 10 voters said parents should have at least some input into what schools teach; McAuliffe won with this group of voters, but Youngkin won with voters who said parents should have "a lot" of input into what schools teach.
During his campaign, McAuliffe repeatedly cited inflated numbers of the number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state and the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, while Youngkin made various false and misleading claims about McAuliffe's positions and record.
McAuliffe has argued for workforce development, with education proposals being funded through savings from the proposed Medicaid expansion.
In his 2013 gubernatorial campaign, McAuliffe pledged to deemphasize the number of standardized tests in schools and reduce the number of them. The General Assembly passed a bipartisan bill in 2015, signed by McAuliffe, that directed the Virginia Board of Education to adopt new accreditation standards that "recognize the progress of schools that do not meet accreditation benchmarks but have significantly improved their pass rates." In 2017, the board, which primarily consisted of McAuliffe appointees, implemented the law and made significant changes to the criteria for accreditation, including reducing the number of standardized tests required for graduation and adding metrics such as absenteeism, achievement gaps, and improvement on the state exams.
In his 2009 campaign, McAuliffe said, "I want to move past coal. As governor, I never want another coal plant built." In his 2013 campaign, he supported tougher safety requirements on coal plants. He also announced his support for the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, which would limit the amount of carbon dioxide that could be emitted by power plants, making it difficult to build new coal-fired plants and to keep old ones operating.
McAuliffe is a hunter and owns several shotguns. He supports universal background checks for gun sales, and while Governor called for "a renewal of the state's one-a-month limit on handgun purchases...a ban on anyone subject to a protection-from-abuse order from having a gun and the revoking of concealed-handgun permits for parents who are behind on child-support payments." A one-handgun-a-month law was enacted in 2020, under the governorship of successor Ralph Northam. McAuliffe has also called for an assault weapons ban in Virginia.
In January 2016, McAuliffe reached a compromise with Republicans, allowing interstate holders of concealed carry permits in Virginia, nullifying Attorney General Mark Herring's previous ruling, effective February 1, 2016. The deal will also take guns from domestic abusers and will require state police to attend gun shows to provide background checks upon request from private sellers.
McAuliffe supports the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He supports expanding Medicaid, arguing that taxes Virginians pay would return to Virginia.
In August 2018, McAuliffe stated "that's something we ought to look at", referring to President Trump's impeachment. He argued that if "President Obama had gone to Helsinki and done what President Trump had done, you would already have impeachment hearings going on."
In 2021, according to PolitiFact, McAuliffe made a "full flop" on qualified immunity, initially supporting its repeal when attempting to win the support of Democrats in the primary before reversing course in the general election.
While running for governor in 2013, McAuliffe declared his support for same-sex marriage, becoming the first candidate to do so.
McAuliffe supported the bipartisan transportation bill that passed the General Assembly in 2013. He is in favor of the Silver Line, which would expand Metrorail services into Fairfax and Loudoun counties. In May 2011, according to PolitiFact, he made a "pants on fire" claim when he stated Virginia has no mechanism to repay transportation bonds; the commonwealth does in fact have one.
His memoir, What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators, and Other Wild Animals, was published in 2007 with Steve Kettmann and made The New York Times Best Seller list, debuting at No. 5 in February 2007. Among anecdotes told in the memoir was McAuliffe wrestling an eight-foot, 260-pound alligator for three minutes to secure a $15,000 contribution for President Jimmy Carter in 1980. He and the alligator would appear on the cover of Life magazine. Others included hunting with King Juan Carlos of Spain, golf outings with President Bill Clinton, and reviving the Democratic National Convention. McAuliffe also wrote about the September 11 attacks and his experiences in the Democratic National Committee office immediately after. He was criticized for writing he felt like a "caged rat" when he was unable to raise campaign funds for the Democratic Party after 9/11, left his wife crying with their newborn child to raise money for the Democrats, and left his wife in the delivery room to attend a party for a Washington Post reporter.
In 2019, McAuliffe wrote a second book in the aftermath of the Unite the Right rally, entitled Beyond Charlottesville, Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism. In August 2019, the book made The New York Times Best Seller list.