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Outside Groups Nearly Match WV Candidates' Spending

Outside groups have spent nearly as much as all West Virginia candidates combined on this election. (WV Citizens For Clean Elections)
Outside groups have spent nearly as much as all West Virginia candidates combined on this election. (WV Citizens For Clean Elections)
October 31, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — Outside, often shadowy political groups have spent $15 million in West Virginia this year, according to a new report. That's nearly as much as all of the candidates combined.

Julie Archer, a co-coordinator of West Virginia Citizens For Clean Elections who worked on the study, said super PACS and groups not created by the candidates are a crucial tool used by powerful players to protect their interests in the state. And she said it can be dishonest.

"Attacking incumbent judges for being 'soft on crime' - and when you start looking more closely at it, it's really business interests who maybe want to shield themselves from liability,” Archer explained.

She said super PACs and other secretive organizations have become more important in state elections since the 2010 Citizens United verdict. In that decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that some kinds of political spending are constitutionally protected as free speech and cannot be restricted.

Challengers backed by outside money are more than three times more likely to unseat an incumbent, Archer said. And the groups spending the money often use names that are intentionally misleading. For example, the "Mountaineers Always Free PAC" was formed by the Republican Attorneys General Association to defend Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and attack his opponent, Delegate Doug Reynolds.

Archer said super PACS make it possible to target a state office for a comparatively small amount of money.

"Really, special interests and wealthy donors who want to advance their agenda, it's much easier for them to do it at the state and local level,” she said.

And state can only do so much to limit the impact of these donors. Archer said one of the motivations behind the report was to argue for better disclosure rules.

"Not only to highlight the growing role that outside money is playing in our elections, but also the need for more transparency,” she said, "so that voters can be better informed about who's trying to influence their votes."

The full report can be viewed here.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV