This article originally provided by The Herald-Dispatch

Note: WV Citizens for Clean Elections was instrumental in passage of the 527 law mentioned in this story.

December 17, 2006

Blankenship's spending rivaled House, exceeded Senate field

Associated Press Writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Massey Energy chief Don Blankenship reported pouring $3.7 million into his unsuccessful bid to influence this year's legislative races - spending more than the entire field of 45 Senate candidates, and nearly as much as the more than 240 people who ran for the House.

Racetrack and other gambling interests were among those more successful than the coal company president, CEO and chairman. The latest campaign finance reports posted by the Secretary of State's office show they supported 71 winning candidates by devoting at least $352,000 into House and Senate contests. Just over half that sum was contributed in the final weeks before the general election.

They seek full-blown casinos at the state's four racetracks, or benefit from the state lottery system's video poker machines.

Tobacco interests also stepped up their campaign giving just before Nov. 7. They distributed nearly two-thirds of their more than $25,000 in donations during that time. The West Virginia Tax Modernization Project, which issued its report one week before the election, recommended the state increase its cigarette and tobacco-related taxes.

The entire-100 member House and 17 of 34 Senate seats were on the ballot this year. In both chambers, Democrats increased majorities held since the 1930s. They upped their roster of delegates from 68 to 72 and went from 21 to 23 Senate seats.

Based on available reports - post-general filings were due Dec. 8 - Senate candidates together spent more than $2.8 million. About $1 million of that came from candidates who lost in the May primary. Those who survived until the general spent an average of about $64,500.

The large field of House candidates spent $3.8 million, though all but about $220,000 was spent by primary winners. Seeking seats spread across 58 districts, the House candidates who reached the general election spent an average of about $20,300.

The most expensive general election race for the Senate appears to have been the 4th District matchup between former Delegate Mike Hall and lawyer Jim Lees. Hall, R-Putnam, spent only about $66,000 to Lees' $100,000 but bested his Democrat rival for the open seat.

After a pricey primary, the general election race in the 3rd Delegate District emerged as the year's most expensive for the House. Ohio County Democrats Tal Hutchins and Orphy Klempa defeated GOP rivals in a contest where spending averaged at least $94,500 per seat. A final report from Republican Delegate Gil White, unseated in that race, is not yet posted.

Greyhound breeder Mike Green, who knocked off Sen. Russ Weeks, R-Raleigh, spent the most of any legislative candidate this year, including heavy spending during the primary: $320,716. Incoming Delegate Doug Reynolds, D-Cabell, led the pack of House candidates, spending $187,000.

Blankenship, meanwhile, devoted $3.6 million from his personal wealth on an independent political campaign that urged support for 45 specific GOP House candidates while attacking 42 of their Democratic opponents by name, his reports said. He reported spending $1.58 million of that between Oct. 21 and Nov. 17.

But that post-general report appears to include nearly $900,000 in spending previously disclosed in earlier reports. The total on the report's cover page also fails to reflect about $425,000 in spending detailed within the report. Blankenship and his campaign's key staffers, Greg Thomas and Rob Cornelius, did not respond to messages last week questioning the report.

Only one of the Democratic incumbents targeted by Blankenship's "And For The Sake Of The Kids" campaign, Delegate Margarette Leach of Cabell County, lost in November. The 80-year-old had been placed at a nursing home several weeks before the election. The 39 Blankenship-backed candidates who lost included four Republican incumbents.

Besides his independent advertising campaign, Blankenship also contributed at least $104,500 directly to legislative candidates over the course of the election cycle. Massey's political action committee and other company executives gave another $50,050. The GOP candidates supported by the independent expenditures also received at least $121,900 from Massey vendors and former employees.

Besides gambling and tobacco interests, other special interests also became major campaign contributors this year:

- An array of labor PACs together gave at least $413,250;

- Trial lawyers and their PAC distributed at least $374,500;

- Banking-related PACs gave at least $78,000;

- Insurance-related PACs contributed at least $63,000.


Lawrence Messina covers the statehouse for The Associated Press.


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