A group co-founded by Republican attorney general candidate Patrick Morrisey is trying to defeat Democrat legislative candidates in the Eastern Panhandle - and Democrats there are not happy.
Morrisey and Republican state Senate candidate Jim Ruland, neighbors in Harpers Ferry, started the Eastern Panhandle Freedom Fund last summer.
There's no indication they've been involved since last year. Morrisey, who held no official title on paper, and Ruland, who was the group's treasurer, moved to distance themselves from the group earlier this year when they both filed to run for public office.
But the Freedom Fund's start shows how Morrisey used his own money and his out-of-state connections to help Republican causes before he filed to run for attorney general in January.
Ruland's personal accountant, Robert Smith, took over as treasurer of the Freedom Fund and remained bookkeeper until several weeks ago.
During that period, Smith was also treasurer for Ruland's Senate campaign. Candidates and PACs are not supposed to coordinate spending. Smith said he reluctantly became involved and that his job was to file paperwork for the Freedom Fund.
"I don't know anything about the ads," he said.
Now, the Freedom Fund plans to spend money to target Ruland's opponent, Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson.
The early donors to the Freedom Fund include Ruland, Morrisey and several of Morrisey's out-of-state supporters.
Those supporters include Morrisey's colleagues at a Washington, D.C.-based law firm where he worked until earlier this year and a few New Jersey residents who also gave to Morrisey's unsuccessful 2000 U.S. House race in that state.
One out-of-state donor is Morrisey's wife, who currently has a house in Virginia and does lobbying work in D.C.
Morrisey is a former congressional staffer, lawyer and sometimes lobbyist. He moved to the Eastern Panhandle in 2006. There, he began to get involved in West Virginia politics by writing letters and columns in newspapers and trying to move waves in Republican circles.
It hardly seems as if he intended to run for public office this year.
In a radio interview this summer, Morrisey said he tried to recruit others to run against Democrat Attorney General Darrell McGraw, but no one did.
"So there was little bit of a 'Well, no one else very strong is going to step forward, so I would consider it,'" Morrisey said in the interview. "And then a number of folks within the party - the members of Congress - thought it would be a good idea if I stepped forward because this was not really in the life plan."
Since they filed to run, Morrisey and Ruland "have not had any involvement with" the Freedom Fund, its current treasurer, Suzanne Morgan, said Thursday.
After Ruland left, he asked Smith to do the group's books.
Smith said he got involved at Ruland's request.
"I said it's not really what I want to do, but if you need me to do that, I'll do that," Smith said.