Big money funding race for WV attorney general

Patrick Morrisey
Doug Reynolds

The race to be West Virginia’s attorney general is getting expensive quickly, with the Republican Attorneys General Association spending millions on incumbent Patrick Morrisey and Democratic challenger Doug Reynolds now putting down more than $1.8 million of his own money for his campaign.

Morrisey’s and Reynolds’ campaigns published their first general election finance reports with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office on Friday.

Those records show that Morrisey now has raised more than $1 million for his campaign — most of which sits in reserve — and that Reynolds, a Huntington businessman who represents Wayne County in the West Virginia House of Delegates, has personally contributed the vast majority of his campaign’s $2 million through direct contributions or personal loans. He has contributed $1.5 million since the end of June.

That spending, however, continues to be dwarfed by the $3.4 million that RAGA, a national political organization, has given on Morrisey’s behalf. That outside spending, which totaled $2.3 million in September alone, has allowed Morrisey to save up more than $708,000 of the money that he has raised to this point.

Members of Morrisey’s campaign said they are glad to have the support of RAGA, which federal documents show is funded by drug companies, coal giant Murray Energy and prominent conservative donors, like Charles and David Koch. That campaign is being operated by Scott Will, who was Morrisey’s campaign manager during his 2012 election.

“We are honored that national groups have recognized that Morrisey is leading the fight against Obama’s EPA and the current opioid epidemic,” Kayla Berube, Morrisey’s current campaign manager, said.

The influx of cash has made the race to become West Virginia’s lead attorney one of the most expensive campaigns in the state this year, along with West Virginia’s race for governor.

Nationally, the race is shaping up to be one of RAGA’s most expensive. The group also is spending millions on behalf of Republican attorney general candidates in North Carolina and Missouri.

“I believe this race and the one in North Carolina are going to be their top two races in the 2016 election cycle,” said Patrick Hensley, Reynolds’ campaign manager. “We are going to keep plugging away and keep doing what we have to do.”

Reynolds owns the Herald-Dispatch newspaper, in Huntington, and is the president of Energy Services of America, a publicly traded oil and gas service company. He owns $1.3 million in stock in that company, according to federal financial documents.

Hensley said Reynolds is putting up millions for his campaign simply to make sure that Morrisey doesn’t win another four years in office.

“He made an investment in this campaign and this state,” Hensley said of Reynolds. “He thinks it’s time we stop selling this state to the highest bidder.”

Much of the money for West Virginia’s race has been poured into television advertisements for both sides, which have dominated the television airwaves statewide in recent weeks. Most of those ads have turned negative.

Reynolds has spent hundreds of thousands on ads that attack Morrisey for his history as a lobbyist for the drug industry and for continuing to be involved in a lawsuit against a drug company when he had said he’d recused himself from the case.

RAGA, which is operating under the name Mountaineers are Always Free PAC, is running ads that try to connect Reynolds to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and criticize him for his family’s wealth.

The group also has broadcast messages that say Reynolds supports the federal government’s new carbon regulations under the Clean Power Plan, even though Reynolds has publicly said he would continue the lawsuit being led by Morrisey in the federal court system.

“We are very proud of our grassroots campaign, which has garnered support from over 1,500 donors from all over West Virginia,” Berube said. “While Doug Reynolds continues to use his family’s fortune to try to buy the Attorney General’s Office for the purpose of advancing his own political and business interests in support of the liberal Obama-Clinton anti-coal agenda, Patrick Morrisey remains committed to fighting for coal jobs, ending the substance abuse epidemic and returning millions of dollars back to the taxpayers.”

In 2014, a series in The New York Times, titled “Courting Favor,” highlighted events held by RAGA and the Democratic Attorneys General Association at resorts that allow corporate lobbyists to mingle with attorneys general from around the country. During the 2012 election cycle, another conservative political action committee — the Center for Individual Freedom — spent at least $1.6 million to help Morrisey defeat Darrell McGraw, the incumbent attorney general who was running for his sixth term.

With RAGA spending millions on his behalf, Morrisey’s campaign released its first television ad just Wednesday, according to his campaign manager’s Twitter account.

Reynolds’ campaign said it believes the millions being spent by RAGA is evidence that the race is tight. The staff pointed to a poll that Reynolds’ campaign paid for that shows the two candidates running nearly even in the state.

“It’s no surprise that they are doubling down now and dumping even more in,” Hensley said. “We think we have him on the ropes, and we are going to continue to fight until Election Day.”

Reach Andrew Brown at andrew.brown@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @Andy_Ed_Brown on Twitter.

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