CHARLESTON - In preparation for the 2008 election, state Attorney General Darrell McGraw has built a campaign site that blames the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for what he perceives as misinformation about him being spread.
McGraw is running for his fifth term and will likely face Republican challenger Hiram Lewis, who lost to McGraw in 2004 in the closest Attorney General's race in state history. Statistically, both candidates received 50 percent of the vote, though McGraw collected more than 5,000 more votes.
In particular, McGraw says three publicized "myths" trouble him: The American Tort Reform Association citing him as a reason it ranked West Virginia as the No. 1 Judicial Hellhole in the country, the Competitive Enterprise Institute calling him the sixth-worst state attorney general in recent history and Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse claiming his actions have harmed the state's senior citizens.
"In reality, the (ATRA, CEI and CALA) are the sophisticated lobbying tool of the National Chamber of Commerce, whose members are regulated by the Attorney General's Office under the laws of West Virginia," the site says.
"Big tobacco and the insurance and pharmaceutical industries fund bogus studies, which spew misinformation with the intent to influence West Virginia's political process."
McGraw notes that his administration has provided more money in restitutions than all previous attorneys general combined, pointing to his role in the tobacco litigation that led to 1998's Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.
"His office's efforts in the tobacco litigation provided nearly $1.8 billion to the State, helping to balance the State's budget," the site says. "Because of his leadership role in the litigation, West Virginia was awarded nearly $200 million additional dollars beyond the settlement amount."
He also defended his 2004 settlement with Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the prescription painkiller OxyContin. McGraw alleged that the company misrepresented the addiction capabilities of the drug, creating addicts that put a strain on the state's Medicaid budget.
The federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, is planning to withhold $4.1 million from its next Medicaid payment to the State because of the manner in which McGraw handled the settlement. The federal government supplies 75 cents of every dollar the state spends on Medicaid, though it did not receive any funds from the settlement.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes admitted that the settlement was intentionally structured that way before the state's Legislature when it questioned the settlement.
In February, she promised the Legislature that McGraw's office would stop appropriating settlement funds on its own. She also said the money was not given to the state's Department of Health and Human Resources, another one of the suit's plaintiffs, because the CMS would then be able to claim a share -- "We have arranged a methodology that has prevented the federal government from coming back and seizing money," Hughes said.
Though McGraw's office was not a plaintiff in the case, it kept all the funds and has continued to give the settlement proceeds to various substance abuse programs around the state, as well $500,000 for a pharmacy school at the University of Charleston. Critics, like Lewis, claim it is done with the intention of promoting McGraw's re-election campaign.
CALA said McGraw's actions have put a hole in the Medicaid budget, harming seniors. The State is planning an appeal.
"(H)earing the name 'Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse,' one would believe that this organization consists of citizens of West Virginia simultaneously expressing their will and opinion, exercising their First Amendment right to free speech," the site says.
"Instead, it is expressly incorporated as a commercial entity, organized for a business purpose. Donations or names do not have to be revealed, and the corporation does not pay taxes. Donations may be written off as a business expense."
And, according to McGraw, the U.S Chamber is pulling the strings at CALA. The U.S. Chamber owns The West Virginia Record.
"The (CMS), the Medicaid-funding arm of the federal government, waited three years after the recovery (of the Purdue Pharma settlement) before contacting the State of West Virginia, and it was only after the West Virginia Record, which is owned by the National Chamber of Commerce, contacted CMS and raised questions about the Attorney General's method of distribution of the recovered funds that CMS even questioned West Virginia's distribution of the settlement money," the site says.
"We are confident that, in fact, Attorney General McGraw's actions and method of distributing the funds will allow West Virginians to retain the settlement funds."