Conservative PAC spends $30K on attack ads

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.

Nearly $30,000 worth of misleading political mailers have been sent out by the Eastern Panhandle Freedom Fund over the last several days. Most are nearly identical to this one, attacking candidate John Maxey, with only candidates’ names and photographs changed. Maxey, who has never held elected office, did not vote to increase DMV fees. He says he would have voted against the measure if he had been a delegate at that time. This scan was used with Maxey’s permission.

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.

Misleading claims

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.”

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18 Responses to Conservative PAC spends $30K on attack ads

  1. The Republican Party is so deceitful, un-ethical, and immoral. Why would anyone believe anything they say, let alone give them their vote? What I really think about them cannot be printed.

    • Mr. Jones:

      If you read the article, you will see this mailer was not from the Republican party. It was from a stand-alone PAC.

      And, if you want to address “deceitful, unethical, and immoral” speech. Why don’t you address the rhetoric of Democrats Herb Snyder and Stephen Skinner who are calling this mailer “unprecedented” and “illegal”? Giving no evidence and suggesting that Mr. Morrisey or Mr. Ruland knew anything about this mailer borderlines on libel.

      In addition, the only unprecedented event is the amount of money raised by Mr. Snyder (over $100,000) and Mr. Skinner (over $80,000) for elected offices which pay $20,000. And most of their money is coming from outside organizations, special interest groups, and PACS.

      Mr. Snyder supported the bill that is mentioned in this mailer. How is that misleading?

  2. Does anyone really believe that Morrisey withdrew from this PAC since all of the records are sealed and we may never know. This New Jersey loser has lied about everything else in his campaign so I’m calling him out on this one, too. He represents and is funded by the corporate interests that McGraw has sued for defrauding West Virginians and now he wants us to put him in charge of consumer protection. I would let him guard an outhouse…

  3. Jenniffer Baltzell

    The only thing that Mr. Snyder, Mr. Skinner, and the rest of us know for sure is that Mr. Morrissey and Mr. Ruland claim to have no involvement with this organization that they started up, yet have shed no light whatsoever on who is responsible for the mailings in question. If I were Mr. Ruland or Mr.Morrissey, I would be leading the pack to find out who had used my money and the organization that I had founded to fund such disgusting political tactics.

    • Ms. Baltzell:

      I believe it is in the article (or other media sources) that a Ms. Morgan is now in charge of the organization as its President.

      To suggest that Mr. Ruland and/or Mr. Morrisey had knowledge of this mailer (which I believe is against the law) without any proof borders on Libel.

      • Jenniffer Baltzell

        I was told by Ruland in a face-to-face conversation that the only person that he is aware of being associated with the organization is Ms. Morgan. When I asked if she was responsible for the advertisement he responded that he didn’t know and restated that she is the only person that he knows us involved with the organization. His response was that he didn’t know who is behind the decision-making on the advertisements and it was not my impression that he was eager to solve the mystery.

        • Given the law, it is likely more prudent for Mr. Ruland and Mr. Morrisey to disavow the mailing as they have in their statements and then avoid “investigating” the organization and giving the appearance that they now have ties to the organization or its leadership. Don’t you think?

          Perhaps, the Spirit can investigate the organization (as they should the Eastern Panhandle Small Business Alliance) and see who is behind them…

  4. As the article states Suzanne Morgan took over the PAC. Ruland and Morrisey did nothing wrong and were NOT deceitful. By law, Candidates are not allowed to know what is being done by other PACS. They would not be involved in any way once they announced running for office, and both Skinner and Snyder know this.

    • There can be no question that Stephen Skinner knows full well that Morrisey and Ruland are not, and could not be, responsible for these ads. As a lawyer, Skinner, of all people, knows the law on this and that it’s no different than if they had started a company and then sold it to someone else, who then mismanaged it. Skinner’s holier-than-thou attitude is beyond hypocritical. Makes me laugh to hear him talk at the debates about creating jobs and encouraging business development in West Virginia when he and his law firm have made a career out of suing West Virginia businesses. What’s more, the majority of his funding comes from the plaintiffs bar in DC and NY, who want nothing more than to ensure that WV remains a “judicial hellhole” that encourages lawsuits, not business.

  5. It’s true some current candidates weren’t involved in the license fee increase; just one example, however. The last thing WV needs is to continue with a democrat party agenda…What has it got us, and where have they taken the state? I don’t need to answer this question!

    As for the ads, the democrats complaining in WV [our local area] is just “nano” in size to what’s on TV with Obama and his continous lies, as well as, the lying he did in the debates…From jobs he’s created, to the improved economy — need I go on with his lies! So, Snyder, et al, have to follow their messiah’s role with lying about Ruland and Morrisey — it’s just a part of the game. [By Law] Morrisey and Ruland did the right thing…Get over it Snyder/Skinner!

  6. Perhaps Mr. Snyder and Mr. Skinner should PROVE their allegations of a conspiracy, rather than merely tossing out utterly unfounded allegations against their opponents. They appear to be accusing their rivals, in first person, of the very crimes for which they themselves contend they have been aggrieved. For if that irony is lost on these two caterwauling contenders, how is it that these thin-skinned fellows legitimately believe they have the fortitude to represent us?

  7. With all of the finger pointing as to who was responsible for the EPFF advertisements why don’t we look at the issue the advertisement addresses: the outrageous increase in DMV license renewals. Here are the facts. The legislation passed in both WV houses. In the House of Delegates, THERE WERE ONLY 2 REPUBLICANS in the whole state that voted for it!!! When it comes to our local representatives in Charleston: every Republican voted against it. Every local Democrat voted for it. Tiffany Lawrence voted for it. John Doyle voted for it. John Unger voted for it. And yes, Herb Snyder voted for it!

    So here is the issue – if you want to ensure that this type of legislation does not get passed again, vote Republican.

  8. After 80 years of Democrat control over this state, our state consistently ranks in the top 5 for spending and the bottom 5 of everything good — education, new business development, GDP,etc. Time to wake up and vote for some real hope and change!

  9. I would like to expand this conversation just a bit.

    First of all, Skinner has no right to point fingers at anyone for political dirty tricks.
    His brother is chair of the ONLY business association to endorse Skinner, Marshall and a host of other candidates running here in the Panhandle.
    The Eastern Panhandle Business Alliance has raised 0 funds to date for anything.
    But many candidates have been “endorsed” by this PAC, and have advertised such.
    In reality it doesn’t exist, except for mis-informing the public that certain candidates are business friendly.
    It is a scheme cooked up by the Skinners to once again lie to the public.
    http://apps.sos.wv.gov/elections/pac-search/pac.aspx?id=1266

    Even more disturbing, is the fact that the same candidates who are “endorsed” by this non existant PAC, refused to asnwer questions posed by the WV Campaign for Liberty on whether or not they would defend your constitutional rights to life, property and liberty.

    Just chose not to answer, period.

    I can only imagine the reasons behind their refusing to answer is that they realize those answers would expose them for being out of step with the residents of the Panhandle.

    Go to http://www.wvc4l.org and click on the “Resources” button to see the survey we sent, the candidates who answered, and what their answers were.

    Instead to find information on their stances, you have to dig really deep.

    What we have found is that across the board Skinner, Marshall and a host of others oppose tort reform. This is a major factor in making the Panhandle more attractive to possible employers, you know, JOBS here in the Panhandle.

    I guess if I were Skinner I would oppose tort reform too….since 40% of my campaign donations are from out of the area special interest groups and law firms.

    For some reason those special interests want to continue the long standing tradition in West Virginia of no jobs, poor education and reckless spending.

    To understand politicians, all you have to do is follow the money. Politicians are bound to be more accountable to those who fund them than those who vote for them.

    Cronyism has ruled West Virginia for far too long. For far too long have we tolerated the violation of our rights as West Virginians and Americans.

    Ask these politicians whether or not they support the 4th Amendment- for if they do, they will oppose the EPA’s use of drones in our State.

    Ask these politicians if they support the 5th Amendment, and would stand up against section 10-21 of the NDAA which “permits” the Federal Government to detain YOU without due process or even a lawyer, if a Bureaucrat determines you are a “threat”.

    Ask them if they support the forced participation in Obamacare, which will cost YOU $2500 a year…the largest tax increase this century.

    I guess if you do not support Personal Liberty and Personal Rights as defined in the Constitution, Due Process and businesses and JOBS in West Virginia, and support keeping a status quo of bottom ranked education, increased taxes and a fertile soil for trial lawyers you have to create smoke screens and make believe PAC’s to dupe the public into electing you.

  10. Let’s see if I have this right: The Spirit is attacking Republicans Ruland and Morrisey for an “attack” ad they were NOT legally responsible for. No laws were broken. This political ad criticizes Democrats Snyder and Lawrence for votes they WERE responsible for. The truth of the ad is not challenged. Now the fun part. Snyder is quoted: “. . . the intent was to hide behind a faceless (political action committee).” Many of us received Herb Snyder’s glossy flyer proclaiming “Working Families are Herb Snyder’s Only Special Interest Group” . . . this ad: Paid for by the West Virginia AFL-CIO” A special interest group pays for Herb to say he has no special interest group! Yep, Keep your eyes closed folks, nothing to see here. We don’t need no stinkin’ change in West Virginia politics!

  11. May I suggest that conservative voters contact the PAC as I have done and make it clear that their dishonest, “the end justifies the means” action will now make some people reconsider their vote next week? Having an (R) by their name doesn’t mean someone automatically earns a conservatives vote. Integrity matters – tell the Freedom Fund that.

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