Sen. Herb Snyder calls expenditure ‘unprecendented’
BRYAN CLARK Spirit Staff
Editor’s note: Morrisey has responded to the statements made by Sen. Herb Snyder and Stephen Skinner. See the update at the bottom of the story.
CHARLES TOWN – A conservative political action committee that had been sitting on a war chest of nearly $30,000 has recently launched an 11th-hour barrage of direct mailings attacking local Democrats in connection to a bill that ultimately was never passed and many of these Democratic candidates being targeted were not lawmakers at the time the bill was voted on.
The Eastern Panhandle Freedom Fund – a 527 political action committee, organized in the same legal manner as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, MoveOn.org and American Crossroads – reported yesterday that they were spending nearly $8,500 in direct mail attacks on Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, almost $7,500 in attacks on Democratic candidate John Maxey, and around each $4,000 on candidates Stephen Skinner, Donn Marshall and state Sen. Herb Snyder.
The ads urge voters to tell each of the candidates that “we’ve had enough of these harmful votes,” and points voters to Senate Bill 608, a proposal from the 2011 legislative session that would have raised a variety of fees charged by the Department of Motor Vehicles for registration, for license renewals and for insurance companies to obtain driving records.
The ad states that license fees have been doubled and license renewal fees have been tripled under Senate Bill 608, but fails to mention the bill — which was approved by both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, and would have increased registration fees from $28.50 per year to $40 and license five-year renewal fees from $12.50 to $32.50 — was never enacted.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the bill in March 2011, saying that it violated the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it forced in-state companies to pay higher fees than out-of-state companies and because he was opposed to raising fees in times of financial stress.
What’s more, Skinner, Maxey and Marshall were not even serving in the state Legislature at the time, making it impossible for them to have voted to increase DMV fees.
While the ad never explicitly states that these candidates voted for the measure, Skinner argues it would lead many voters to believe that they had.
“It is designed to mislead the voters into believing something that didn’t happen,” Skinner said. “I didn’t vote on anything, period. I couldn’t have. I’ve never had the opportunity to vote (on legislation).”
Lawrence and Snyder did vote for the bill, however.
Snyder said he supported it because the West Virginia DMV had not increased its fees for around 20 years and so was drastically out of step with other states. He said all of the monies raised would have gone for road maintenance, which he said the state should be spending money on.
The ad attacking Lawrence, slightly different from the ones attacking the other delegate candidates, declares: “After 80 years of extreme liberal politics it is time to tell Tiffany Lawrence we’ve had enough.”
Lawrence was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2008.
The Freedom Fund
The mailings were paid for by the Eastern Panhandle Freedom Fund, a Harpers Ferry-based political action committee founded by Attorney General candidate Patrick Morrisey and state Senate candidate Jim Ruland, both Republican challengers, in 2011.
The Freedom Fund raised the majority of its cash in a fundraising drive around October, 2011 when it held a fundraiser at the Bavarian Inn with appearances by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Republican gubernatorial challenger Bill Maloney that netted $15,245. At around the same time the group raised at least $6,500 from out-of-state donors, mostly from New Jersey and Washington, D.C., several of whom worked for corporate law and lobbying firms Morrisey had formerly been employed with.
As a 527 political action committee, the Freedom Fund is legally barred from any coordination with the campaign of any candidate.
Ruland has said he and Morrisey founded the organization long before they decided to become candidates in the 2012 elections and turned over management of the organization to Suzanne Morgan, the senior director of government affairs and grassroots advocacy at the plastics industry’s K Street lobbying firm. Morgan did not return calls requesting an interview.
According to campaign finance disclosure forms, Ruland donated $2,000 in cash to the fund. Morrisey gave almost $1,800 in cash and in-kind donations to the fund.
Ruland’s personal accountant and campaign treasurer, Robert Smith of Shepherdstown, was the Freedom Fund’s listed treasurer until at least April 30, three months after Ruland had filed paperwork announcing his candidacy. Smith has previously said he was not involved in the operations of the Freedom Fund, and only took over routine accounting tasks while the group was evidently inactive.
Ruland said the original intent of the group was not to create attack ads but to help Republican candidates get their campaigns started.
“Once I knew I was running and Patrick (Morrisey) knew he was running, we knew we had to dis-involve ourselves from the (Freedom Fund). All the money we raised through the time we controlled it was raised for the purpose of helping candidates, largely through the measure of logistics and infrastructure stuff.
“That was the whole motivation for starting the thing, and that was we went around telling the people who donated. So the idea was never to do attack ads or whatever. It was all based on helping all candidates with the central things that a party would do for their candidates.”
Snyder and Skinner said they blame Morrisey and Ruland for the last-minute attack mailers.
“They built the cannon,” Snyder said. “They loaded the cannon, and then they said, ‘I don’t have anything to do with this if you want to fire it.’ I hold them both responsible for this.”
He said the negative mailers were unprecedented in the 22 years he had been running for office in Jefferson County.
“Clearly, the intent was to do this, to hide behind a faceless (political action committee),” Snyder said. “I’ve never seen anything like this locally that a group has used every penny of their money for negative advertising against Democratic candidates. That’s why its important for the voters to know who is behind the veil, and it is all public knowledge.
“To step away now and say that they have nothing to do with it, I think is nothing short of cowardly,” Snyder said.
Ruland emphasized that he had nothing to do with the ads.
“I am really disappointed in (Snyder’s) comment,” he said. “If it was up to me, if I had had any control over it, then I would have prevented it from happening.”
The mailings were produced by Red Maverick Media, a Republican political consulting and electioneering firm with offices in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maine. Red Maverick Media has produced such mailing campaigns in a number of states throughout the mid-Atlantic in recent years.
Red Maverick has also been contracted by a number of other Republican Political Action Committees in West Virginia this year.
UPDATE: Oct. 27, 4:50 p.m.
Patrick Morrisey has responded to the statements made by Snyder and Skinner.
“As many people know including Senator Snyder and Stephen Skinner, I separated from the (Freedom Fund) earlier this year, so this concept that I am behind these ads is a desperate attempt by Senator Snyder and Stephen Skinner to distort the truth,” Morrisey wrote in an email.
“Let me be clear: I am very disappointed with these ads, as that was not the original intent behind the organization. This is the last thing I would have wanted and hope that any future ads produced are done much better.”
“Having said that, it’s really unfortunate to hear such misleading statements coming from Senator Snyder and Stephen Skinner. They know the rules and the law and shouldn’t be trying to manipulate people to score political points when they know the truth. Shame on them for spreading falsehoods. Jefferson County deserves better from its leaders. I’m disappointed in both of them.”