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Political action committees spend $6.5 million

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Political action committees have spent more than $6.5 million trying to sway voters on state elections, according to public records.

The largest of those expenditures are from outside the state's borders, though Democrat-friendly in-state unions have spent about $230,000 total, mostly on numerous legislative races.

The spending is divided almost evenly between parties.

The heavy spenders are mostly from out of state. For instance, the Democratic Governors Association has spent about $2.6 million so far on behalf of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, according to public information compiled by Republican candidate Bill Maloney's campaign. The full extent of the group's spending is not yet posted to the Secretary of State's website.

The Republican Governors Association, by contrast, has spent about $990,000.

The largest single pro-Republican spender is the Center for Individual Freedom, which reports spending about $1.6 million to try to defeat Democrat Attorney General Darrell McGraw, according to West Virginia Secretary of State records. The center does not report its donors.

The Iowa-based American Future Fund put $394,000 into the race late last week, presumably on behalf of Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey.

The fund, which does not report its donors, is led by a Republican state senator in Iowa and a woman who managed the Iowa caucus campaign for George W. Bush in 2000, according to The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization.

McGraw is receiving major aid from two groups.

One is Standing Up for West Virginia, which has spent about $150,000 to aid McGraw. It's apparently a local operation.

Nearly all of that money came from recently started Pocahontas County-based Vangusta Inc.

Charleston and Pocahontas County attorney Roger Forman started Vangusta solely to funnel money to the political action committee, which is being run by Charleston political operative Larry LaCorte. Forman declined last week to say who was putting money into the shell company.

An ad paid for by the group touts McGraw's consumer protection actions aimed at drug companies and criticizes Morrisey for being, until not too long ago, a D.C. lobbyist with health care clients.

But it's possible McGraw could indirectly benefit from drug company money, according to finance records. His other major backer is the Mountaineer Committee for Justice & Fairness, which is, in turn, backed by the Democratic Attorneys General Association, or DAGA.

According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, Pfizer is one of DAGA's largest donors, along with other corporate titans like Citigroup, Wal-Mart Stores, Visa, AT&T and Monsanto, the agricultural products giant.

There are a number of groups involved in state legislative races. Most of the union spending has been in those races.

The West Virginia House PAC, led by Charleston lawyer Dan Greear, which has spent $49,000 to aide Republicans. It recently received money from former state Republican Party chairman Douglas Mckinley and the Republican speaker of the Virginia state House.

The Senate Legislative Council, led by Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, has spent about $17,000 to help Democrat senate candidates. They include Josh Martin, who is running for the open Kanawha/Putnam Senate seat, and Sen. Mark Wills, D-Mercer, who is facing a formidable Republican challenger, the southern West Virginia car dealer Bill Cole.

There's also legislative race spending, reported on Friday by the Daily Mail, by the Eastern Panhandle Freedom Fund, which was started last year by Morrisey and Republican state Senate candidate Jim Ruland, neighbors in Harpers Ferry.

They have distanced themselves from the group this year, but Morrisey came under criticism from Democrats last week because of his work for the group as well as the out-of-state money he helped attract to it.

Republicans pointed to Democrat spending, particularly the pro-McGraw group with the shell company behind it and a group funded partly by Eastern Panhandle House candidate Stephen Skinner. That group has spent about $3,700 on behalf of John Maxey, a Democratic House candidate in a neighboring district. Skinner has said that the group's ads are positive, unlike the Freedom Fund's.

Another local player jumped into the governor's race in recent days. That's New Direction West Virginia, Inc., led by Charleston photographer Nathaniel Lieberman. It's spent just less than $13,000.

Contact writer Ry Rivard at 304-348-1796 or


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