CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - Patrick Morrisey, the GOP nominee for West Virginia attorney general, on Thursday asked longtime incumbent and Democratic opponent Darrell McGraw to clarify statements he made this week about taxpayer spending.
"Yesterday, during a joint editorial board with the (Charleston) Daily Mail, Darrell McGraw made some very troubling and potentially legally problematic statements," Morrisey said.
"When asked why this year's taxpayer-financed spending of the Attorney General's Office may exceed 1,000 percent of last year's 'educational spending' on television, radio, trinkets and other assorted self-promotional items, McGraw said he was 'glad' that the mortgage settlement money provided to his office occurred during an election year.
"While we know that this attorney general lacks the legal judgment to manage this office any longer, it is stunning that McGraw would act in such a cavalier manner about public monies."
According to the Daily Mail, McGraw's office plans to spend "hundreds of thousands" of dollars this year advertising its services. A significant chunk of that money will come from a $25 billion nationwide mortgage settlement reached by state attorneys general, federal officials and five of the nation's largest mortgage servicers in February.
Of that $25 billion, West Virginia received more than $33 million in assistance for struggling homeowners.
McGraw told the Daily Mail editorial board Wednesday that if cases are settled, the services the settlements offer residents have to be advertised.
He also told the board that he believes a lawyer's name needs to be on the ads.
"The election and the settlement coincide -- and guess what?" McGraw said. "I'm glad."
According to the newspaper, Morrisey wanted the attorney general to elaborate during the meeting on why, exactly, he was glad.
"Because I do want to point out that if any one point or any one purpose of advertising is political in nature, that can get people in a lot of trouble," Morrisey said during Wednesday's meeting.
Daily Mail reporter Ry Rivard said McGraw then turned "philosophical."
"For 2,500 years, we've been arguing about what's 'political,'" the attorney general replied. "I think it was Plato -- wasn't it? -- that said 'political' depends on where you stand while you're looking at it."
Then, moments later, he said, "So it coincides and all the sudden it's a federal case?"
Morrisey said Thursday that McGraw's admission that he is "glad" about the timing of the spending of the settlement monies -- with his name plastered all over the media -- shows that he knows the ads are being used to promote his reelection.
"And that's not only wrong; it may be illegal," the Eastern Panhandle attorney said.
"The fact is that McGraw's office helped draft the court order determining how the money would be spent. So if he is 'glad' the money is being spent on self-promotion, then it is because he engineered the whole feat."
Morrisey said upon winning the November election, he will conduct a "thorough review" of McGraw's activities -- and his staff -- to determine whether his office engaged in any illegal use of public monies.
"If we find any problematic documents, or if even one purpose of McGraw's ads is to benefit his reelection campaign, we will refer the matter for potential prosecution of the state's claims," he said.
"The fact is we know that Darrell McGraw is using settlement monies to promote his reelection."
He continued, "This 'glad' comment reveals what is going on in McGraw's head, though, and it is very disturbing."
The general election is Nov. 6.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.