Millions of dollars from the Republican Attorneys General Association are flooding into West Virginia to help Patrick Morrisey maintain his position as the state’s attorney general.
Campaign finance reports show that the corporate-funded association has spent $2.6 million since May to help get Morrisey re-elected as the state’s top lawyer, with more than $1.5 million of that spending occurring over a two-week period at the beginning of this month.
The independent expenditures were made under the Mountaineers are Always Free PAC, which was started in May by the RAGA specifically to assist Morrisey in his campaign against Doug Reynolds, a business owner and Democratic state legislator.
The wave of money, which largely has been put toward negative advertisements against Reynolds, highlights the power of third-party groups that are willing to spend millions to get their preferred candidates elected.
RAGA also is spending big in North Carolina, where it has pledged $3.8 million to help that state’s Republican candidate for attorney general.
In West Virginia, the outside spending has dwarfed the $386,000 raised by Reynolds as of June, and has allowed Morrisey to save most of the $702,000 that his campaign raised independently by that point, according to the most recent financial disclosure reports.
Scott Will, the executive director of RAGA, ran Morrisey’s campaign in 2012.
Kayla Berube, Morrisey’s campaign manager, did not directly answer questions about the money that was being spent by RAGA or why the group is willing to spend so much on Morrisey’s campaign.
“It is not appropriate for us to speculate about another group’s spending and strategic decisions, which we have absolutely no involvement in, due to campaign finance laws,” she said.
Berube instead referred to the lawsuit that Morrisey is pushing against the federal Environmental Protection Agency and that agency’s Clean Power Plan. She reiterated campaign attack ads that label Reynolds a supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and criticize him for funding his campaign with “the family fortune he was born into.”
“Attorney General Morrisey has received grassroots support from all over the state,” she said.
Morrisey’s individual fundraising efforts, as of June, equal less than a third of what RAGA has put up for the race.
Reynolds campaign manager Patrick Hensley said they are well aware of the money that is being spent on Morrisey’s behalf, and they aren’t surprised by the influx of cash for their opponent.
“This is something we expected from day one,” Hensley said. “If you followed the race in 2012, they spent millions of dollars dragging a good name through the mud.”
In 2012, the Center for Individual Freedom, another conservative group, spent $1.6 million to defeat Darrell McGraw, the incumbent attorney general being challenged by Morrisey.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that analyzes campaign spending, the RAGA is funded by large corporations and some of the country’s leading conservative donors.
The list of major contributors includes casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Charles and David Koch, coal industry leader Bob Murray and Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin.
Morrisey is leading the effort to challenge the Clean Power Plan, which scientists and President Barack Obama say is needed to help combat human-induced climate change. The federal regulations also are being challenged by Murray, who owns large coal mines in six states and South America.
“Patrick Morrisey is leading the fight against President Obama’s unconstitutional overreach that is threatening to strangle West Virginia’s economy,” the RAGA’s Will said. “His opponent is a Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama donor who tried to cripple the attorney general’s ability to fight the EPA in court.”
Reynolds has said that he would continue to support the lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan if he is elected in November.
“As Attorney General, I will vigorously fight federal overreach as it pertains to our coal mining industry in West Virginia,” Reynolds said in a prepared statement. “I will always defend West Virginia against overly burdensome federal regulations, and I will continue to take the fight to the federal government to ensure that West Virginia’s economic interests are always protected.”
The flow of outside money into West Virginia this year has prompted a behind-the-scenes battle between the Reynolds and Morrisey campaigns.
On Sept. 6, Reynolds’ campaign sent a cease and desist letter to television stations throughout the state that were running ads paid for by RAGA. The Reynolds campaign argued that the advertisements were false and misleading.
Lawyers for the national association responded with a letter of their own the next day, and Conrad Lucas, chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party, filed a separate claim over attack ads against Morrisey.
Reynolds continues to receive contributions for his campaign, Hensley said, and none of it is coming from third-party groups.
He questioned the real reason that RAGA and its donors are willing to contribute so much money to Morrisey.
“What do these people want with West Virginia?” Hensley asked. “They are spending millions of dollars to control the Attorney General’s Office.”
Reach Andrew Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-4814 or follow @Andy_Ed_Brown on Twitter.