CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - Republican West Virginia Attorney General candidate Patrick Morrisey is continuing to question the inner workers of incumbent Darrell McGraw's campaign.
In a radio ad introduced Wednesday, Morrisey says McGraw is abusing taxpayer money to help fund his re-election campaign and using staff members to run his campaign.
"Almost every time you hear Darrell McGraw's name in a radio ad, TV commercial, or see his mail and trinkets, you, as a taxpayer, pay for it," the announcer says in the ad between repeated "Ka-Ching" sound effects. "Instead of sending all of the settlement money to the Legislature and the taxpayers, McGraw doles it out as he see fit, like a King, to promote himself."
In a press release, Morrisey reiterated those points.
"Not enough West Virginians know the full extent to which Darrell McGraw has abused taxpayer dollars for personal gain," Morrisey said. "This will help educate voters so they understand that almost every time they hear Darrell McGraw's name in a radio ad, they, as a taxpayer, paid for that ad."
In a story in Thursday's Charleston Daily Mail, McGraw campaign spokeswoman Denise Tucker denied the allegations. She told the Daily Mail that she and everyone else on the campaign are volunteers.
"The campaign does exist, and it is not run out of the Capitol by any stretch of the imagination," Tucker, a former Attorney General employee, told reporter Ry Rivard. "Most of the press just wants to carry his water, and we've just got other things to do."
After a press conference Wednesday to unveil his office's "Know Before You Owe" website devoted to student loan information, McGraw declined to discuss campaign issues during an official Attorney General office event in his offices.
Later Wednesday, Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes also denied McGraw's campaign is being operated from the AG offices in the state Capitol.
"It's volunteers," she said. "It's an all-volunteer grassroots campaign as far as I know. Lots of people over the years have come to support Attorney General McGraw. They don't have money to hire a big D.C. PR firm.
"The bottom line is that many West Virginians' lives have been impacted by Judge McGraw's works. So they volunteer to help his campaign. I don't see what's so odd about that. The consumers he's helped. The coal miners he's helped. Why is it so unnatural to rally behind one of their own? After all, Mr. Morrisey is originally from New Jersey and just became a West Virginia lawyer a few days before filing to run for office.
"But everybody's allowed to have their say. That's the nature of campaigns."
Morrisey campaign manager Scott Will said the Office of Attorney General has spent more than $218,000 so far this year with one state radio network. In contrast, the office only spent $47,000 in 2010, and $70,000 in 2011, both non-election years, with the same network.
Morrisey's ad also notes that McGraw's campaign finance reports show no paid staff members.
"According to the Office of the Secretary of State, McGraw doesn't even spend a penny on campaign staff. That's because he relies on taxpayer money to campaign," the announcer says.
That's also something Morrisey's campaign stressed earlier this week in a press release.
"The report shows that McGraw has not hired a single campaign staff member, despite the Attorney General himself and his representatives having a presence at nearly every parade, county fair or festival, and, of course, campaign fundraisers," the Morrisey release stated. "He also reported (minimal) travel and office expenses even though he is traveling around the state to campaign. In one case, McGraw relied upon three state cars to travel to a fundraiser."
Morrisey says that proves McGraw "has chosen to rely upon state workers in the Office of the Attorney General to handle traditional campaign activities."
"Indeed, McGraw has chosen to engage in an ethically problematic and highly questionable, if not illegal, campaign strategy to desperately try to hold on to public office," the release continued. "McGraw's escalating reliance upon West Virginia taxpayers to fund his campaign is clearly a panic-response to poor fundraising."
Morrisey's release also included a mock McGraw Campaign Plan that includes the following:
"Strategy 1 - Avoid spending campaign money on, well, campaigning. Despite campaigning all summer at numerous festivals and fairs and conducting fundraisers, McGraw spent very little campaign funds on lodging and travel. The government picked up his tab to travel, provided multiple state cars to campaign (three at his last fundraiser in Bridgeport), and paid for distributing campaign-style literature at fairs.
"Strategy 2 - Avoid spending any campaign money on staff since the taxpayers are paying for his campaign staff.
"Strategy 3 - Use taxpayer money to advertise positive information about Darrell McGraw. When spending on one station rises from $47,000 in 2010, to approximately $70,000 in 2011, to over $218,000 in an election year (through today), it isn't coincidental. Since McGraw can't raise enough private money to compete against his opponent, he is spending record amounts of public money on so-called educational ads that get his name out. The problem is those ads are being run in excess and in much higher volume right before the election.
"Strategy 4 - Avoid answering any question from the press when it is uncomfortable because he can get away from it. 10 days after McGraw's Milton meltdown, McGraw still has no comment about his actions. This is McGraw's pattern over 20 years in office."
McGraw's campaign responded to the release, according to the Daily Mail. Despite numerous requests, McGraw's campaign has not sent releases or responses to The West Virginia Record.
"Traditionally, our state wide office holders go out to serve the public at fairs, festivals and parades, every year - not just in election years," the McGraw release stated. "That's what officials do in West Virginia. They bring efficient and accessible government directly to the people in their communities."
And McGraw's campaign Facebook page Thursday also addressed the "Ka-Ching" radio ad, which is titled "Thy Name is Darrell, The King."
"Our opponent has a catchy radio ad," McGraw's Facebook post says. "'Ka-ching.' That's the sound of the money coming into the State of West Virginia - to the consumers, taxpayers and to the Legislature from the out of state rule breakers who are held accountable by Darrell McGraw.
"Don't be fooled by attack ads. We need to keep Attorney General Darrell McGraw fighting for us as our Attorney General!! 'Ka-Ching!'"
The post goes on to call Morrisey's ad misleading with "blatant lies."
"Money spent by the Attorney General's Office is done so under Legislative Appropriations and Legislative rule," the post continues. "The Legislature has used settlement proceeds for very important programs for our State. Anyone who claims otherwise is not being truthful with the people of West Virginia."