Outside money poured in to AG race to shore up Morrisey's position

By John Breslin | Nov 22, 2016

An unprecedented amount of outside money was poured into the election for the West Virginia Attorney General election to shore up incumbent Patrick Morrisey’s position.

The outside money, reportedly more than $6 million in support of Morrisey, was seen as important because of the belief Hillary Clinton would be elected, one political scientist who follows money and politics both in the state and nationally said.

In the end, Morrisey comfortably held on to his position, and, though the favorite, a key reason for the large margin was the surge in votes for Donald Trump, said Patrick Hickey, a political science professor at West Virginia University.

Morrisey, the favorite before the race, defeated his nearest challenger, Doug Reynolds, and two other candidates. The incumbent received just over 51 percent to Reynolds' near 42 percent.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey  

The Democratic challenger spent close to $3 million on the election, much of it funded through loans from himself to the campaign.

“It was an unprecedented amount of money spent on the race,” Hickey told the West Virginia Record. “Attorney General positions are pretty vital ones, especially now because in a lot of cases Republican attorney generals are ganging up to sue the Obama administration and its executive orders.”

Morrisey, Hickey said, led the fight against the Obama Administration over its Clean Power Plan. He joined 26 other attorneys general in supporting a suit against the Environmental Protection Agency’s introduction of the plan, claiming the agency exceeded its power under the Clean Air Act.

The suit is still pending in the Washington, D.C., U.S. Court of Appeals, which could rule as early as January.

Yet, Reynolds said he would fight the EPA and the plan, which, if introduced, would have a dramatic effect on the state’s coal industry.  

While West Virginia campaign finance records show that Morrisey’s own campaign spent just over $1 million, the Mountaineers Are Always Free PAC spent $5.2 million as of Oct. 31. Several news reports state the final spend was between $6.4 million and $6.7 million.

The campaign records show the Mountaineers PAC was funded entirely by the Washington D.C.-based Republican Attorneys General Association.

Open Secrets, the election spending watch dog, reported that among the top donors to the association during the 2016 election cycle were the Judicial Crisis Network, the Las Vegas Sands casino, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Koch Industries. The organization cites IRS records.

“I think [outside groups] want as many allies as possible in fighting the Clean Power Plan,” Hickey said.

Hickey said it is not clear how much difference the avalanche money made to the race, but it is likely those backing Morrisey did not want to take chances.

“I am not sure [the money] made a big difference,” Hickey said “The Trump effect helped Trump win, and that was pretty similar across the board.

Morrisey was the first Republican elected Attorney General in the state for decades. His election, in 2014, was part a wave of wins for Republicans in the state.

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Doug Reynolds for Attorney General Virginia Attorney General's Office West Virginia University

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