Steve Roberts

CHARLESTON – The regular session of the state Legislature is over, and the "Sunshine Act" that would have provided more legislative control over the Attorney General's office died in committee.

But the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce still is running television, radio and newspaper ads urging the public to let their legislators know they care about the issue.

"We let the ads run a little longer," said Steve Roberts, president of the state Chamber. "The Legislature still is in session (working on the state budget). We want them to get phone calls because we want them to know people care about this.

"The legislators can impact the Attorney General's office through the budget, and they should do that. We don't think there is anything inappropriate. The ads call on the Legislature to do its job and rein in the Attorney General, and that's what we are pushing."

Attorney General Darrell McGraw has been under fire of late for his office's practice of retaining outside attorneys who have made significant contributions to his campaigns. He also has drawn criticism for his distribution of settlement funds from the OxyContin lawsuit.

"It's a problem that isn't going to go away," Robert said, making an analogy to recent problems with the state Workers' Compensation system.

"Everybody knew that by 1988 or '89 that Workers' Comp was broke and needed fix. Nothing of any substance was done about that until 1995 and it wasn't fixed until 2003. The (state) Chamber was one of those organizations in the know that this is broken and is headed for a disaster. But the state waited until we had a $6 billion problem (the unfunded liability in the Workers' Comp fund).

"As a policy matter, it needed to be dealt with in 1989. But the politics were not such that it could be dealt with until 1995 and not fixed until 2003."

Last week, a Wheeling newspaper editorial urged Gov. Joe Manchin and the state Legislature to take up the issue in a special session.

Roberts said he wouldn't go that far just yet.

"I tend to be a little more respectful of what goes on in a special session call because the process can work during the 60-day session," he said.

Roberts said the Chamber ads are a way to start getting results.

"We may have to talk about this a while before people understand how important this issue is," he said. "I am getting a lot of people talking to me about the ads. They weren't aware of what is going on in the Attorney General's office. They weren't aware of him hiring outside attorneys who contributed to his re-election campaign. They weren't aware that the clients (in the OxyContin case: the Department of Health and Human Resources, the state Public Employees Insurance Agency and the state Workers' Compensation Commission) aren't getting any of the money from the settlement."

The Chamber's ads were produced by Alfano, a media firm based in Washington, D.C.

"We decided that we wanted to introduce people to this subject in a soft way," Roberts said. "We've had a hard time getting the print media interested in the story. It's almost like people don't understand what you're talking about. You have to get people talking before you can discuss the issue."

He hopes people who see and hear the ads will take action by calling their representatives.

"We tend to be very tactful when describing the Legislature, but we want to see them take some action on this important issue," Roberts said.

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