CHARLESTON – How Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office is spending part of the $33 million mortgage settlement money is drawing the ire of his campaign opponent and Republicans in general.
Patrick Morrisey, who is running against McGraw this election, said Wednesday McGraw should come clean on his "shady financial practices and stop relying upon public monies to aid his re-election efforts."
"It's time for Darrell McGraw to stop using taxpayer money to fund his re-election campaign," Morrisey said.
McGraw's chief deputy AG, however, said the office will make no apologies for trying to help consumers.
"This money for the Save Our Homes initiative came from the multistate settlement to help people who are upside down in their homes, to do principal reduction, loan mods and short sales," Fran Hughes said Thursday. "You have to be able to communicate with your constituents. You have to be able to let people know about the settlement and this program."
According to transparencywv.org, McGraw's office has spent $152,245.15 in advertising this year. But further investigation on the site shows that the AG's office has spent $221,529.86 with The Arnold Agency, $133,823.97 with MetroNews, $6,840 with WOWK, $4,745 with WBOY, $6,540 with WQCW, $3,500 with WVNS and $2,900 with Big Guys Advertising Group.
In a press release, Morrisey said he would "put an end to this blatant use of taxpayer monies."
"We must end the use of trinkets and self-promotion advertising, in particular during an election year," he said. "This practice isn't only wrong and unethical, but arguable unconstitutional.
"McGraw's blatant use of trinkets and self-promotion television advertising is the type of wasteful spending that West Virginia can ill afford during these challenging times."
Hughes countered by saying the mortgage settlement wasn't one that "Darrell McGraw conspired with others to create."
"It involved Democratic and Republican attorneys general," she said. "And we make no apologies for trying to help consumers to tap into this fund.
"For example, if anybody is in a foreclosure right now and they contact our office, we can stop the foreclosure. You have to be able to communicate this to your constituents. You have to be able to let people know about this settlement.
"It's not trinkets when you're trying to get people to avail themselves to something that is going to help them."
She added that the office has received letters from consumers thanking them for their help on this project.
"How do they (critics) respond to that?" she said. "We are here to help consumers, and we aren't going to be distracted because it's campaign season."
Morrisey says he believes the AG's office should return settlement monies to the state Legislature so it can decide how to spend it.
"I view this part of the state Constitution as requiring the Attorney General to return settlement monies to the state Legislature so that it can exercise the power of the purse and make decisions about how to spend valuable taxpayer monies," he said. "The Attorney General cannot be above the law as if he were a king. That's why I will change this practice when I am elected to public office."
Hughes said Morrisey is misguided on that count.
"He's got it wrong," she said. "It's not taxpayer dollars. None of this came from the general revenue. None of it was from taxes or fees on citizens. It's come from defendants that we have sued and who are paying relief. No penny of this is taxpayer money.
"And, for that matter, we do this throughout the year, not just during election season."
The chairman of the state Republican Party also criticized McGraw for "spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayers money" while spending zero campaign funds.
"Darrell McGraw has a track record of questionable and improper use of taxpayer dollars, and McGraw's blatant use of taxpayer funds to benefit his campaign shows a shocking willingness to double-down on his improper spending," Conrad Lucas said. "McGraw, stuck in the campaign fight of his life, has engaged in what is certainly a questionable and unethical act by spending taxpayer dollars for his own benefit.
"As President Obama's chief ally in the state and given McGraw's history of improper spending, West Virginia deserves an explanation and an end to his dubious practices."
As for campaign finances, the most recently filed reports show McGraw's camp has $96,185.86 on hand. Between May 21 and June 19, his campaign spent $477.28.
Morrisey's campaign finance report shows he has a balance of $242,579.87. He spent $22,966.84 from May 21 to June 19, the reports show.