CHARLESTON – Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced the passage Thursday of a bill that will turn $7.5 million in funds obtained through consumer protection settlements over to the state Legislature’s General Revenue fund.
“We spent months working on this,” Morrisey said. “This was a bipartisan agreement. Democrats and Republicans came together to initiate an important ethics reform in Charleston.”
Senate Bill 1005 is a onetime disbursement from the Consumer Protection Recovery Fund, which holds funds obtained through successful consumer protection suits initiated by the attorney general.
“Hopefully this will be a model for how reforms can be initiated in the future,” he said.
Morrisey promised a variety of ethical reforms to the Attorney General’s office during his 2012 campaign, including giving funds won in consumer protection lawsuits to the Legislature, the traditional holder of the “purse strings,” and instituting a competitive bidding process for outside legal work.
“The promises made many months ago have been kept,” Morrisey said.
The bill appropriates $3.5 million from the fund for behavioral health programs provided through the Department of Health and Human Resources, $1.6 million to the Higher Education Policy Commission, and $500,000 to the Department of Commerce.
Morrisey said $1.9 million sent back to the Attorney General’s office will pay for “much-needed personnel, technology improvements and operating expenses.”
Morrisey said the bill sets a new precedent for the handling of settlement monies.
The bill does not, however, contain provisions requiring that future settlements also go to the Legislature. He said he hopes future legislation will impose such requirements.
Morrisey said the attorney general should have “to seek legislative appropriations for our accounts” as do other branches of the state government.
The sizable fund had been gathered from a large number of consumer protection lawsuits – including against the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries – that had been hallmarks of former Attorney General Darrell McGraw’s term in office.
McGraw had used these funds to run consumer education campaigns and other efforts that Morrisey characterized as “pet projects.” Some of the funds were also used to shore up teacher pension funds.
Two federal courts ruled that McGraw had improperly withheld the funds from state and federal government.