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Democrat political action committee aims to keep House majority

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A new political action committee formed to help Democrats keep their majority in the House of Delegates already has about $150,000 in the bank.

Freshman Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, created the House Legislative Committee PAC earlier this year. It's a committee caucus group, affiliated with the Democratic caucus, and the first to explicitly focus on funding Democrat candidates in the House, Skinner said.

"The Democratic caucus is moving forward and is not going to sit back and ignore the fact that we have to have adequate resources to spend to counter the lies that were told in the last election," Skinner said.

Last year Republicans picked up 11 seats in the House, giving them 46 of the 100 seats. Republicans are optimistic they can win the five seats needed for a majority during the 2014 election.

Creating the House Legislative Committee PAC isn't a response to the outcome of the 2012 election but rather to tactics used during the campaign, Skinner said.

"Shining truth on the lies we saw the last time is the best antidote. And the only way we're going to be able to do that effectively is by communicating," he said.

"Unfortunately, it takes money to be able to communicate."

 Attorney Marvin Masters, a perennial Democratic donor, chairs the PAC. Masters has donated more than $200,000 to national Democrat candidates and campaigns since 2007, according to election funds tracking website OpenSecrets.org.

On Wednesday, Masters said sometimes candidates don't have the means to respond to attack ads. He never has chaired a PAC before but said he agreed to "help out where I can help out."

Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, hosted an April 4 dinner at his South Charleston home for the launch of the PAC, according to the invitation. Skaff told the Daily Mail earlier this week about 150 people attended and donated close to $150,000.

Skinner, treasurer for the PAC, said he didn't know the figure off the top of his head but thought Skaff's numbers were "pretty close to the mark."

The invitation lists House Speaker Rick Thompson and the Democratic Caucus of the House as the official hosts of the event.

"I think it's something that the leadership recognizes is necessary with all of the dark and secret money that's flowing into West Virginia from outside of the state," Skinner said.

"It's not so much in response to pickups but in response to the secret money coming in from outside the state that went to aid the GOP in the last election."

Conrad Lucas, chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party, laughed when asked if there was dark or secret money funding GOP candidates. He said the state party was very successful in increasing individual donations, most of which came from West Virginians.

Lucas said he didn't know and didn't want to guess how much money from the national Republican Party or other outside groups went to GOP candidates in House races.

The state party focused on winning a certain number of House seats, Lucas said. He said he asked his team to come up with the "Cadillac plan" for what was needed to win those races, and he would find the money. They raised about $500,000, winning many House seats.

That money went to other races, too, including the battle for the 3rd congressional district seat of U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. Rahall won re-election and is expected to announce his campaign for 2014 soon.

The state GOP's money is a far cry from what outside interest groups donate to Democrats every year, Lucas said.

Roman Stauffer, executive director of the New Majority Fund PAC, agreed.

The New Majority Fund is chaired by Delegate Troy Andes, R-Putnam. It was created as a way to raise money to help Republican candidates in the House, Stauffer said.

It raised about $11,000 last election cycle, according to the secretary of state's website. Stauffer said he thought outside money helped Republicans win House seats, but Democrats receive such donations, too.

The West Virginia Republican Legislative Committee, a PAC run by House Republicans, spent about $40,000 last election cycle, according to filings with the secretary of state. The West Virginia Democratic Legislative Council PAC spent $49,000 as of April 2012 on last year's campaign, the last filing on the secretary of state's website.

With U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., retiring and more focus on the House, Lucas and Stauffer are confident those figures will go up.

"There will absolutely be more money spent on both sides in the 2014 election cycle for control of the House of Delegates," Stauffer said.

The GOP is in the process of recruiting candidates. A new Democratic PAC focused on the House won't make winning the majority easier for Republicans, Stauffer said.

"It's at the point now where the easiest seats to win, we've won, and so we face some real races in 2014. We need some really good candidates to win those seats," he said.

Skinner said he's planning more House Legislative Committee events.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843, david.boucher@dailymail.com or @Dave_Boucher1.

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