West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s campaigns owe him more than $1.7 million, and he’s asking for your help.
Thursday evening, in a video shared live on Facebook, Morrisey requested small-dollar donations for his next political venture, which he said he’s still working on figuring out.
“For me to go forward ... I need your help,” Morrisey says to the camera. “If you believe I should run for attorney general in 2020, I need you to show your support financially. I need you to talk to 10 people and ask for their help. It could be a $3 contribution. It could be $10. It could be $25, $100, all the way up to $2,800. The most important thing is, we need a grassroots army.”
However, the fine print makes clear a donation is not a political contribution in the common use of the phrase.
The first $1,000 given goes to retire debt from Morrisey’s 2012 general election campaign. The next $1,000 given goes to retire debt from his 2016 primary election campaign. The next $1,000 goes to retire debt from his 2016 general election campaign. Only then do subsequent donations go to a 2020 political venture, then the West Virginia Republican Party.
Put simply: Using old campaign accounts as middlemen, a private citizen can give Morrisey — not just his campaign — $3,000.
A new donor would need to contribute $3,001 to give $1 to the 2020 race.
“Joint contributions” can donate twice as much, per the fine print.
The attorney general did not respond to an inquiry regarding whether the availability of a pipeline from donors to his personal account could create a conflict of interest, or the appearance of one. However, Charles Spies, counsel for the fundraising venture Team Morrisey, issued a statement.
“Team Morrisey is set up and run in a manner fully compliant with all federal and West Virginia election laws,” he said. “West Virginia’s updated election law expressly provides for joint fundraising agreements, which are fully transparent and provide public accountability.”
Spies pointed out that any donor who contributes and has already maxed out to any of Morrisey’s previous campaigns will have their donation attributed to the 2020 election.
Morrisey also provided a statement.
“We are grateful for the support we receive, which is all publicly reported and allows us to continue fighting for West Virginia values,” he said.
While unusual, it’s not unheard of for sitting officeholders to raise money to pay off their own personal loans. The Washington City Paper identified two instances of the practice at City Hall in Washington, D.C., in 2015.
In 2014, Morrisey held four “debt retirement” fundraising events, to lighten the load on his first campaign, yielding sharp criticism from Democrats at the time.
In Thursday’s video, Morrisey said that, in his 2018 U.S. Senate campaign, various groups spent $30 million against him and in support of incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who won by more than 3 points.
He criticized a swath of targets, like progressive energy policy, socialism, presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and a “way of life inconsistent with West Virginia values.”
While he doesn’t commit to seeking reelection in the video, he said he’s “very seriously” considering it.
Morrisey first won election in 2012 and reelection to a four-year term in 2016.