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Statehouse Beat: For some reason, lobbyist spending down

Gazette-Mail file photo
West Virginia Coal Association lobbyists Jason Bostic (left) and Chris Hamilton listen during a public hearing in the House of Delegates chamber in April.

For whatever reason, lobbyist spending during the January-April disclosure period dropped to $230,686, the lowest amount for that reporting period, which includes regular sessions of the Legislature, in nine years.

That’s down 27 percent from $317,935 during the same period last year, and a whopping 56 percent from the record $527,797 in January-April 2015 — the latter being inflated by the $195,888 of spending for grassroots advertising spots for the state Business and Industry Council that lobbyist Chris Hamilton reported on his disclosure. (Hamilton listed $15,000 of spending on BIC ads this time around.)

To put that in perspective, the first 10 days of the special session on the budget has run up a larger tab in legislators’ per-day pay and expenses (approximately $306,00) than lobbyists spent on legislators during the 60-day regular session.

Part of the downturn may be an ongoing trend away from big, lavish legislative receptions and dinners at downtown hotels, with more emphasis on less-costly catered lunches at the Capitol. The largest reception this year was hosted by the Independent Oil and Gas Association on Feb. 15, at a cost of $38,956 for 649 guests at the Marriott.

It’s also perhaps telling, according to Hamilton’s disclosure, that the West Virginia Coal Association hosted a reception March 13 at the Marriott that drew 72 guests at a cost of $2,091. It used to be that the Coal Association put on one of the bigger receptions each session, and as recently as 2009, spent $19,317 for a reception that drew 505 guests.

There also seems to be more emphasis on lobbyists taking a few individual legislators to dinner, as opposed to hosting many legislators at large events. Among those, the most expensive appears to be a pre-legislative dinner Jan. 6 when lobbyist Danielle Waltz reported taking Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson; House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha; and counsel to the president Richie Heath to dinner at the Prime 44 Steakhouse at The Greenbrier, at a cost of $224.75 each.

Waltz also reported that the Defense Trial Counsel of West Virginia presented a glass figurine to Supreme Court Chief Justice Allen Loughry, a gift valued at $107 — which exceeds the $25 limit in the Ethics Act. Waltz clarified that the figurine was engraved with the DTC logo and date, “which rendered its value nominal.”

It is also poignant to note that Jan Vineyard submitted her last lobbyist disclosure on May 12, reporting $855 in spending. Vineyard brought a level of quality and dedication to the Statehouse that will be sorely missed.

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Some readers noted bemusement at Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, last week for making non-denial denials about not being the Robert L. Karnes who is registered to vote in Lake County, Florida.

One reason could be issues with his residency.

As reported here last week, according to the Upshur County Clerk’s office, Karnes canceled his voter registration there in 2004, and re-registered in 2012, the year he ran for House of Delegates.

Karnes has also been registered to vote in Florida since 2001.

Both states require residency as a condition of registering to vote. West Virginia law requires that you be a resident of the state and of the county where you register.

Florida law doesn’t specifically define residency, but sets several items that constitute evidence of intent, including having a Florida driver’s license, paying Florida taxes, paying bills for residency such as utility bills and receipt of mail at a Florida address.

As we noted last week, being registered to vote in more than one state is not a crime — most commonly, people move and forget to cancel the old registration.

However, falsifying information on a voter registration application is a crime. In West Virginia, it’s a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail; in Florida, it’s a felony punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 5 years in prison.

For Karnes, the most plausible scenario is this: In 2001, having established residency in Florida, he registered to vote in the Sunshine State. At some point in 2004, he did a head-slap, remembering that he was still registered to vote in West Virginia, and proceeded to cancel his Mountain State voter registration.

At some point, he moved back to West Virginia, and with an eye on running for the House of Delegates in 2012, re-registered to vote in Upshur County, since opponents in elections tend to make a fuss over candidates who aren’t registered to vote.

After losing that race, Karnes ran for state Senate two years later and won, but that conceivably puts him at odds with Article 4, Section 4 of the state constitution. I don’t have to tell you that’s the part of the constitution that sets age and residency requirements for a number of elected offices. That includes state senators, who under the West Virginia Constitution, must be at least 25 years old, and have been residents of the state for five years preceding their election.

We know that doppelganger Karnes last voted in Florida in the 2010 general election, so we can presume he was still a Floridian as of that date.

Which leaves us with a quandary: Either Karnes did not have the required five years’ West Virginia residency when he was elected to the Senate in 2014, or he potentially falsified information on either his Florida or West Virginia voter registration applications.

Karnes had not responded to an email inquiry as of my departure for a three-day weekend on Thursday evening.

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Speaking of the Ethics Commission, commissioners very nearly had to postpone final action on the ethics complaint against former Wayne County assessor Eric Hodges on Thursday since, under the Ethics Act, seven members are required for a quorum for adjudicatory matters — and the commission only has only seven members, with two longstanding unfilled vacancies.

Also, the commission is down to one Republican, Betty Ireland. Under the law, no more than five of the nine commission members may be of the same political party, with the current breakdown being five Democrats, one Republican, and one independent.

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Finally, boy, are some readers cynical. One called last week, pointing out that Senate President Carmichael was at the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race in Charlotte over the Memorial Day weekend, serving as honorary race director, while noting that the Legislature dropped Gov. Jim Justice’s proposal to tax sugary soft drinks to raise revenue so quickly that it might as well have been radioactive.

The Coca-Cola 600 has a long history of inviting politicos from states in the greater Charlotte region to serve as race dignitaries.

Carmichael’s predecessor, Bill Cole, was the honorary starter in 2015, a role filled by Gov. Joe Manchin in 2006, while Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was race grand marshal in 2012.

Come to think of it, during none of those years did the Legislature pass a soft drink tax ...

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220, or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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