By Lawrence Messina
West Virginia’s first so-called super political action committee is considering its post-2012 election options after winning a temporary federal court ruling allowing its donors to contribute unlimited amounts.
The PAC, Stay the Course West Virginia, was one of several groups that funded independent ad campaigns last year. It also filed a challenge of state campaign laws meant to regulate independent expenditure PACs. The lawsuit prompted an August order from U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Johnston that temporarily blocked $1,000-per-election cap on contributions to such groups. The case remains, with Stay the Course seeking a final ruling that permanently strikes down the contribution limit and prevents county prosecutors from enforcing it.
Spokesman Jason Parsons says the group hasn’t decided whether it will take part in future elections. But it considers its 2012 effort a success, as it was formed to help re-elect Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. After the Democrat won a special election the previous year for an unexpired term, voters gave Tomblin a full four-year term in November. His inauguration ceremony is Monday.
“As the state’s first super PAC, it was a unique opportunity to participate in the political process,” Parsons said in a statement. “We were proud to be able to engage more West Virginians in the process and pave the way for more involvement in the future.”
The group is registered both as a PAC and with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as a 527 group, referring to the relevant section the tax code. Such groups accepted unlimited donations, and several operated in West Virginia before the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United cleared the way for federal super PACs.
Stay the Course, which invoked Citizens United in its challenge, reported raising $73,480 and spending $64,330 during the election cycle. Most of its funds came in contributions that exceeded the suspended cap. The largest, of $25,000, came from International Industries, the main company of James “Buck” Harless. While a longtime supporter of Tomblin’s, Harless also is a major GOP donor and was a top fundraiser for former President George W. Bush.
Another company, Pipeline Energy Group of Parkersburg, contributed $10,000. Just more than $39,000 of the Stay the Course’s spending went to Rainmaker Media Group, a Democratic-aligned consulting and ad firm, according to its campaign finance filings. It devoted $10,547 toward radio and online ads that ran just before the election.
Several other groups funded independent expenditure ads. Those include:
• Standing Up for West Virginia raised and spent around $212,000, with at least $149,000 of the latter paying for ads that ran in the weeks before the election. Its ads sought to aid Attorney General Darrell McGraw, a Democrat who lost his bid for a sixth term. This group also hired Rainmaker Media Group, according to its IRS filings. Just more than $192,000 of its money came from Vangusta Inc., a corporation set up in July by Roger Forman, a veteran civil liberties lawyer. Forman has declined to comment about the group or its funding. The state Building and Construction Trades PAC provided the rest of its funds.
• New Direction West Virginia reported spending at least $21,000 on behalf of Bill Maloney, the Republican candidate for governor defeated by Tomblin. It did not disclose its contributors. Its direct mail fliers described the group as a corporation organized as a nonprofit under section 501 of the IRS code, but neither the IRS nor the Secretary of State’s office had any record of either designation. Its officials did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
• West Virginia Veterans Inc. reported spending $7,500 on independent ads in support of Tomblin. Mabel Coal provided $6,000 of its funding while the West Virginia Coal Association contributed $2,000 and prominent trial lawyer Scott Segal gave $1,000. It was formed in 2006 by Patrick Farrell, who did not respond to a request for comment Friday.