CHARLESTON – An online video produced by state Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office is drawing attention, but not necessarily from its target audience yet.
The video, which can be found on Facebook, has the look and feel of a 1970s cop drama and seems like a music video. The video is posted by Charleston-area band The Carpenter Ants, which does the music for the video.
While Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes says the video is meant to alert a younger generation of college students and recent graduates with debt to contact McGraw's consumer protection hotline, critics of McGraw already have begun voicing their problems with the video.
"We were aiming for a different demographic to get younger people that don't know about the services of the Attorney General's Office, that the mediation is free and to promote our 800 number," Hughes told the Charleston Daily Mail. "There are a lot of young people who are in a financial crisis and they don't know where to turn.
"How do we get to that audience? How do we get young college students that might be graduating at age 21 and 22 with a large credit card debt? I mean, how do we reach them?"
The executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, however, said he's offended by the video.
Clearly, the Attorney General's office is finding new and creative ways to waste state funds," WV CALA's Richie Heath said Thursday. "Darrell McGraw's latest video junket might be funny if it wasn't such a sad waste of taxpayer money. With McGraw up for re-election in 2012, it looks like West Virginians will once again be bombarded with state-funded advertisements promoting McGraw's political campaign.
"It's a shame that state lawmakers have abandoned their power of the purse and allowed Attorney General McGraw to get away with such wasteful self-promotion. Our state funds could certainly be better used elsewhere."
Hughes told the Daily Mail that the video cost about $2,500 to make and that it was produced in-house.
The video's storyline includes a debt collection, a loan shark and a good guy named "The Badge." He chases the collector around Charleston.
"Debt, debt, got me on my knees," the band sings in the video. "Darrell McGraw, can you help me please? My future sure looks bleak; without some help I will surely sink into a sea of bankruptcy."
"Makes no difference if they're big or small, General McGraw, he can whoop 'em all ... just like the tobacco companies. He's looking out for you and me.
McGraw himself appears in the video to offer some advice to "The Badge."
"Book 'em, Darrell," "The Badge" says as he enters McGraw's office.
"You know, the way I see it, son, the Attorney General's Office doesn't run around like a bunch of clowns," McGraw tells him.
Hughes said the video was posted last week.
"It's creating a buzz, so we want to do a formal launch to try to get people interested in looking," Hughes told the Daily Mail. "We're not paying any money for any promotion of it. It stands on its own."
State Republican Party Chairman Mike Stuart also derailed the video.
"It is further example of why the election of a new Attorney General is paramount," he said. "The office has been minimized and marginalized by his failed tenure as Attorney General. It is time for a new Attorney General that is capable of restoring confidence and capability to the important office of Attorney General."
Earlier this year, Stuart criticized McGraw for running similar radio ads that he called a "shameful waste of money at taxpayer expense."
"Darrell McGraw is shamefully wasting taxpayer dollars in what is a thinly veiled effort to build his name ID in advance of next year's election," Stuart said in February. "We want the Attorney General to pull the radio ads immediately and for him, personally or through his campaign, to reimburse the taxpayers and the state treasury for his shameless and embarrassing self-promotion. No one can possibly argue that the radio advertisements are for the benefit of our citizens or the office of Attorney General.
"For too many years, Darrell McGraw has skirted or outright thumbed his nose at the laws he is charged to uphold. Our legislators -- Republicans and Democrats -- need to begin a thorough review and oversight of the Office of Attorney General so that we may begin the process of restoring confidence to that important office.
"If taxpayer funds have been used improperly, then Darrell McGraw should be held accountable."
Stuart continued his attack on McGraw and his office's practices.
"Here's the problem with the Attorney General's office," he said. "Because of the record of this attorney general, we have ended up with, effectively, a neutered attorney general from the standpoint that it's important for West Virginia and West Virginia families that we have an attorney general that has the ability to step up to the plate and to have the authority from the Legislature.
"West Virginia is viewed as so unfriendly to business. And with the lack of the attorney general driving issues such as important tort reform and failing to join in the Obamacare suit, I sometimes wonder who this attorney general is fighting for -- the people of West Virginia or Darrell McGraw?
"He ought to be spending his money on building a department aimed at fighting for West Virginians rather than signing his name on radio ads. These dollars ought to be spent fighting for working families. They're a shameful example of what politicians do when they lose touch with the people of West Virginia. West Virginians deserve to know more about these ads and the motivation behind these ads. The priorities in the Attorney General's office are misplaced, to say the least."
Hughes has downplayed such criticism.
"I think that the whole subject of state officials engaging in duties that they are charged to do under the statute, that for them not to attach their name is sort of a ludicrous position and a lot of this has been made to be a subject of political, partisan debate, when really, how else do you promote your 800 number?" Hughes told the Daily Mail. "People have a right to know that the people they elected are doing what they are elected to do."
Hughes previously has told The West Virginia Record that she won't respond to Stuart's attacks.
"We're not going to respond to every issue that he wants to raise because he's nothing but a political operative with a political agenda," she said in February. "He's a political wannabe. We're too busy governing, and he's playing politics.
"He's a politician wannabe, and that's what politicians do. They attack. He's going to issue a press release every day attacking our office. He may even have his sights on our office. ... What he says is politically motivated."
Hughes later told the Charleston Daily Mail that she found it odd that Stuart wasn't more focused on this fall's special gubernatorial election.
"I really find it interesting that as head of the Republican Party - I mean, I haven't heard him out talking about any of the candidates for governor. I mean, don't you find that unusual?" Hughes told the Daily Mail. "Instead he's on a diatribe against Judge McGraw that isn't even accurate, as it turns out.
"Is it going to be like this for two years?"
Hughes also told the Daily Mail the cost of a radio campaign that the office has been using - and that Stuart has been criticizing as a way to "use tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to build his name ID."
She told the Daily Mail that the ads have cost a little more than $24,000 this year. She also defended the ads.
"This is a person who it's his fifth term as attorney general and he was on the Supreme Court - I think West Virginians know who Darrell McGraw is," she told the Daily Mail. "There's going to be some advantages that accrue to an office holder by putting their name on something with the 1-800 number, but it's only beneficial if the person is doing a good job."
Stuart said he took Hughes' comments "as a compliment."
"The record of Darrell McGraw and Fran Hughes is absolutely clear, and it's not a record that is defined by Mike Stuart," Stuart said. "They have been the worst duo to serve in the office of Attorney General in the history of West Virginia. Ms. Hughes personal attacks and her slander of conservatives in West Virginia is both regrettable and unfortunate.
"Darrell McGraw and Fran Hughes have chosen not to defend the people of West Virginia from the train wreck of Obamacare and have refused to join with 28 of their peers to challenge the Constitutionality of the Act.
"Moreover, as recent as July 2010, Darrell McGraw was rated by the Competitive Enterprise Institute as the fifth worst Attorney General in the nation. ... That very same report graded Darrell McGraw and Fran Hughes as one of the nation's worst offenders of fabricating law, usurping legislative power, and predatory practices as those terms are defined in the report.
Stuart also cited a report by AG Agenda Watch in December 2010.
"West Virginia has long been fertile ground for the plaintiff's bar, in part because of Attorney General Darrell McGraw," the report said. "McGraw's campaign contributors -- and at least one relative -- have been rewarded with work filing lawsuits against the state. Moreover, McGraw's record over the years and some of his actions as a public official and as an attorney might best be described as "ethically challenged."
Stuart said McGraw and Hughes have a reputation across the country.
"Under Darrell McGraw and Fran Hughes, West Virginia's Attorney General has earned a national reputation - one which harms our state and our economy," he said. "And the people of West Virginia are entirely all too familiar with Darrell McGraw through the tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent to sing his name to our citizens on campaign ads poorly masked to appear to serve a community purpose."