This billboard for Attorney General Darrell McGraw's Project Save Our Homes is located near the Air National Guard Armory in Martinsburg. (Photo by John O'Brien)
MARTINSBURG – A billboard promoting Attorney General Darrell McGraw's Project Save Our Homes has been condemned by Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey.
Four of the billboards have gone up across the state recently promoting the project that is a result of this summer's national mortgage settlement, of which McGraw took part.
The billboard shows a soldier hugging a family member and says "You Protect Us. Let Us Protect You. Contact Attorney General Darrell McGraw." Below that are a toll-free phone number and a website for the project.
"This billboard has nothing to do with consumer protection and has everything to do with politics and building his name in the eastern Panhandle," Morrisey said. "It's a waste of taxpayer money, abusive, and just plain wrong.
"It's also yet another sign of how desperate McGraw is to get re-elected."
McGraw's top assistant, however, disagrees.
"It has everything to do with consumer protection," Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes said Friday. "Or at least what little Mr. Morrisey might know about it.
"There are special protections under the mortgage settlement for veterans. We did a huge event working with the military to make sure veterans get all the protection they're entitled to."
The four billboards – two in the Martinsburg area and one each in Charleston and Huntington – all are located near military armories, according to Joe Clay, comptroller in McGraw's office. He said the billboards went up around Aug. 15 and are scheduled to stay for 60 days. He said the total cost of the four billboards was $3,110.
"Darrell McGraw's wasteful and self-promotional practices are having an increasingly detrimental impact on the state of West Virginia," Morrisey said. "McGraw's legal errors and diversion of Medicaid settlement monies, as documented by the courts, will cost the state millions of dollars and place the health care benefits of our seniors and most vulnerable at risk."
Morrisey said this election-year tactic simply is just more of the same for McGraw, who has been criticized in the past for using incumbency to help him every four years by putting his name on everything from pencils and pillboxes to key chains, bumper stickers and gun locks.
"This billboard just continues a terrible trend of McGraw placing himself first and taxpayers and the most vulnerable in our society last," Morrisey said. "McGraw pretends to protect the vulnerable, but then he uses their money to boost his sagging re-election efforts."
The executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse also said he was disappointed by the billboards.
"Darrell McGraw's latest advertisement is a shameless example of how the Attorney General's spending of settlement funds really is out-of-control at this point," Richie Heath said. "McGraw continues to waste state funds in what appears to be a blatantly political manner. Are these advertisements actually helping anyone but Darrell McGraw? West Virginians unfortunately may never know thanks to the lack of transparency in the Attorney General's office.
"It's equally disappointing to watch many state lawmakers sit quietly as McGraw's office once again burns through millions of dollars in state settlement funds on advertisements and promotional materials that seemingly pander for the benefit of McGraw's re-election campaign. West Virginians deserve better from their Attorney General."
The Save Our Homes initiative was established to help guide consumers through homeowner assistance options, including those provided by the recent landmark mortgage-foreclosure settlement with JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank, Bank of America, and GMAC/Ally Financial.
"With Project: Save Our Homes, the Attorney General's Office will do everything we can to lend a helping hand to West Virginia's homeowners so that they can stay in their homes," McGraw said in a statement.
McGraw's office has said principal reduction, free refinancing for "underwater" but current homeowners, direct payments to those who have been foreclosed on and enhanced safeguards for military personnel are a part of the settlement.