By SEN. RANDY WHITE
CHARLESTON -- Attorney General Darrell McGraw has given us 16 years of unparalleled public service protecting the citizens of West Virginia by providing consumer education and when necessary, fighting the unscrupulous businesses that attempt to prey on senior citizens, consumers and other businesses in the state.
Since being elected in 1992, Darrell McGraw has through the Consumer Protection Division of his office collected more than $110 million from businesses that have broken the law and $1.8 billion in the tobacco settlement case. He is a true public servant and defender of the citizens of West Virginia.
It is perhaps understandable when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other out-of-state corporations spend millions in negative advertising attacking him when many of these law breaking businesses likely contribute to its operations.
However, it is very perplexing why the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce likewise spends several hundred thousand dollars in the same manner.
Is our state chamber against protecting our own people? One would think that they would be supportive of efforts to "clean up" those businesses that market harmful products and especially those that commit consumer fraud against our West Virginia citizens and other businesses.
Some of the negative ads accuse McGraw of spending monies that are the function of the Legislature. Well, the Legislature has spent the vast majority of the funds collected by office of the Attorney General. Over 99 percent of these funds have been used by the legislature to promote the best interests of the citizens of the State.
Some monies have been directed by the court to be used in specific ways such as the case of the Purdue Pharma settlement because of illegally advertising the drug Oxycontin, also known as "hillbilly heroine", Purdue Pharma insisted that the money should be used to finance community programs addressing drug abuse, law enforcement efforts at reducing abuse, and medical education to further reduce substance abuse.
These are the very funds being used by the legislature to setup "day reporting" centers. The Microsoft litigation case produced laptop computers for students in every county of the state.
The Legislature has spent monies provided by the Attorney General's office, incuding: $24 million to set up the Physicians Mutual Insurance Fund, which has kept our doctors in West Virginia; in 2007 the legislature authorized the sale of the tobacco settlement proceeds which generated over $800 million to pay down the debt of the Teachers Retirement System; an additional $500 million to the Worker's Compensation debt; and $250 million to the Governor's Rainy Day fund, which is used to help rebuild after devastating floods and other natural calamities in West Virginia;
The most recent settlement against Visa and MasterCard includes $11.6 million to the West Virginia treasury to offset a sales tax holiday so West Virginia consumers could purchase energy efficient products. The Governor first proposed this holiday in his 2008 State of the State address and the West Virginia Legislature enacted the terms of the settlement.
The office of the Attorney General consists of 69 lawyers serving the needs of seven different divisions including: the Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division, the Civil Rights Division; the Appellate and Opinions Division; the Health and Human Resources Division: the Administration and Public Safety Division; the Tax, Revenue, Education, Arts and Transportation Division; and the Employment Programs litigation Unit. In the course of a year the Attorney General's office will work on thousands of cases and other matters that come before its overworked staff.
Occasionally, the Attorney General must contract outside his office to hire expertise in a particular legal matter to benefit the citizens of West Virginia. Naturally, he turns to lawyers who are familiar with representing and protecting consumers in these matters. He certainly wouldn't be looking for corporate lawyers, whose financial interests are often opposite of the consumers.
Again, negative advertising raises its ugly head to defame the success of the Attorney General and the consumer lawyers. I have known many consumer lawyers and find them to be decent, honorable men and women. Their first interest is that justice be served and in this case, that our senior citizens, consumers, and small businesses are protected from the abuse of out of state corporations.
Their fees usually run 25 percent to 33 percent of any award given by the courts. These fees are used to cover their costs of litigating, investigating, paying staff, and other costs associated with a business. Their business just happens to be "seeing that justice" prevails.
In conclusion, I firmly believe that Darrell McGraw is an honorable, decent, and honest human being. He takes his constitutional responsibilities very seriously. I believe, that he has the best interests of the citizens of West Virginia at the center of his work.
He has been the most successful Attorney General in the history of the state of West Virginia. Unfortunately, what comes with that success is a target from out-of-state business interests determined to take advantage of the senior citizens, consumers, and small businesses in our state.
White is a state senator serving the the 11th District and is mayor of Webster Springs.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce owns The West Virginia Record.