After a Democratic super PAC began unloading roughly $590,000 against him in ads last week, Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., attacked national Democratic leaders and threw a blanket denial over the assertions.
Filings with the Federal Election Commission show that Duty and Country PAC, which shares an address with a prominent Democratic super PAC and has former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin as its treasurer, spent about $630,000 last week targeting Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
About 94 percent of the PAC’s spending is directed toward Jenkins. In mailers and commercials, the ads claim when Jenkins worked as executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association in the early 2000s, the organization pushed doctors to use a medical liability insurance company that overcharged for services; that the insurer in question made a secret deal with the association; and that Jenkins lobbied to increase doctors’ insurance rates by 23 percent.
The ads cite a February 2001 article in the Charleston Gazette — which sources a 2000 Securities and Exchange Commission filing from Medical Assurance — and a 2002 report from the State Journal.
The Gazette article states Medical Assurance paid WVSMA at least $115,000 annually between 1995 and 2001 in a confidential deal. Per the arrangement, association members (doctors) would lobby legislators on the company’s behalf in exchange for a share of company profits and a series of breaks on insurance premiums, so long as they use Medical Assurance’s coverage.
The SEC filing lists as an exhibit, an “Endorsement and Marketing Agreement by and between Medical Assurance … and the West Virginia State Medical Association … dated December 1, 1994.”
Medical Assurance attached the exhibit to a 1994 filing that was not immediately available; the SEC only has filings online from 1996 onward.
Standing in Davis Park in Charleston, Jenkins focused on what he claimed was the national Democratic Party meddling in a Republican primary. He denied the charges made against him, though he did not specify where the problem lies.
“It’s all inaccurate, it’s all a bunch of vile, spewing venom, and it is a shady, third-party organization, they don’t even have the guts to put their name on it,” he said. “There are problems throughout. The problem is they were all lies back in 2000, 2001 and 2002 — mischaracterization, misrepresentation — and they’ve been debunked time and time again.”
According to the 2001 Gazette report, Jenkins did not return a half-dozen phone calls for the story before it went to print.
Jenkins said the campaign is being waged by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. He mentioned each of the two Democrats by name more than 10 times in a roughly 12-minute media event.
“We are draining the swamp, but unfortunately, the vile, the venom and the muck and the mud from the swamp is flowing out of Washington and into West Virginia,” he said.
Mike Plante, a Democratic political consultant and spokesman for the PAC, noted that Jenkins did not respond to the story when it broke. Plante said Jenkins had no issues with “meddling” when Mountain Families PAC, which has ties to the national Republican Party, threw in outside money benefiting Jenkins and Morrisey at fellow primary candidate Don Blankenship’s expense.
“When the Republican Party just a few days ago dumped in $700,000 to attack Don Blankenship and meddle in the Republican primary, [Jenkins] also had nothing to say,” Plante said.
The West Virginia State Medical Association issued a news release criticizing the ads.
“In the advertisement, the WVSMA was accused of making a ‘shady, backroom agreement with an insurance company,’ and that Jenkins lobbied for a 23 percent rate increase to boost profits for that insurance company and subsequently harm physicians,” the release states. “This mailer implied criminal behavior and was made with the intent to damage the reputation of the WVSMA. The figures quoted are grossly misrepresented. A review of the articles cited shows at least one of the sources refutes the assertions made in the mailer, while others do nothing to substantiate purported statements of fact.”
Danny Scalise, WVSMA executive director, said he does not dispute the existence of a deal between the insurance company and the association, but that the association did not lobby for higher rates for doctors.
According to the 2002 State Journal article the ad cites, Medical Assurance petitioned the state Insurance Commission for a 23 percent rate increase. The article quotes Jenkins as saying both that the market lacked insurance carriers and that rates were not reasonable at the time.
However, it closes quoting Jenkins saying he hopes the state Insurance Commissioner will “go beyond the rate request and endorse a plan that will make medical liability rates more in line with neighboring states.”
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported Friday that Duty and Country had spent $500,000 on the race. According to a Saturday filing with the FEC, Duty and Country poured in another $128,000 on online and direct mail advertising against Jenkins, raising the total to $630,000.
Adding a layer of intrigue to the PAC, Goodwin led the prosecution of Don Blankenship for conspiring to violate mine safety and health standards, which led to a conviction and one-year sentence for Blankenship.
Duty and Country has not targeted Blankenship in any of its ads.
Tom Willis, Bo Copley, and Jack Newbrough are also on the ballot in the primary. The winner will face either Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., or Paula Jean Swearengin, his primary challenger.