Outside group a big spender in attorney general race
A conservative, anti-regulation group is spending $1.6 million to try to defeat Democrat Attorney General Darrell McGraw, according to West Virginia Secretary of State records.
The D.C.-based Center for Individual Freedom's ad purchase is considered enormous for West Virginia and is certain to help Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey, who has long promised a vigorous effort to defeat the longtime incumbent.
McGraw has only narrowly won his last several races and has consistently drawn the ire of industry groups for his office's consumer protection litigation.
The group got its start as a front for the tobacco lobby and now funds conservative candidates and causes.
It does not report its donors, though former President George Bush political operative Karl Rove's political action committee has given money to the center, according to spending information made public by Rove's Crossroads GPS.
There's also an out-of-state effort aiding McGraw.
It's apparently backed by the Democratic Attorneys General Association, according to a federal tax filing that show money from the association going to the anti-Morrisey Committee for American Fairness. The association is known as DAGA.
It functions much like the Democratic Governors Association, which goes across the country dropping money into races to aid Democrats. DAGA's national foe is the Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA.
The Morrisey campaign said the DAGA-backed Committee for American Fairness spent $231,000 on anti-Morrisey ads this summer.
An affiliated group - the Mountaineer Committee for Justice & Fairness - just reported another $346,000 in anti-Morrisey spending to the Secretary of State's Office.
It's unclear if that anti-Morrisey effort can compete against the Center for Individual Freedom's spending.
There are also in-state usual suspects trying to help swing the race.
The West Virginia Building & Construction Trades is spending $20,000 to help union-friendly McGraw, according to state electioneering filings. The business-friendly West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse is spending $37,000 against him.
A group of in-state plaintiff's attorneys is also expected to buy ads to help McGraw, but the group had yet to file any expenditure reports with the Secretary of State's Office.
The outside spending dwarfs the campaigns' own coffers, according to the most recently available campaign finance reports, which were filed in late September.
McGraw's campaign had about $150,000 on hand and Morrisey had about $290,000. Candidates get more bang for their buck when they buy TV ad time, though. That's because stations are required to give the lowest ad rates to political candidates but not to other groups.
The Morrisey and McGraw campaigns traded allegations of hypocrisy on Wednesday, which was before the full extent of the Center for Individual Freedom's spending became public.
The Morrisey campaign's email to the media was titled, simply, "Darrell McGraw Hypocrite." The alleged hypocrisy is that McGraw has long criticized out-of-state spending but is now receiving outside aid.
"When I am elected, I will put West Virginia first," Morrisey said. "I won't say one thing and do another.
But McGraw's campaign said Morrisey's statement was nothing more than "a smoke screen" to cover up the Center for Individual Freedom's spending. McGraw's campaign hit Morrisey for his 2000 loss in a New Jersey U.S. House race and Morrisey's decision to run in West Virginia just 12 years later. Morrisey also filed to practice law in West Virginia just days before he filed to run to become the state's top lawyer.
"Now he wants to tell us how we in West Virginia should conduct our legal affairs and that he cares for the people of West Virginia," McGraw's campaign said. "Sounds like a hypocrite to me."
The question is whether the anti-McGraw groups can finally make voters turn on the longtime attorney general.
McGraw was first elected in 1992, though he'd already served as a state Supreme Court justice. His victories have mostly been narrow, except in 2000 when he was unopposed in the general election.
Morrisey, an Eastern Panhandle resident who was virtually unheard before his run, needs to raise his name recognition with voters - something he's been doing with a round of positive ads - while also attacking McGraw and not repulsing undecided voters.