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W.Va. Sen. Unger still owes contributors to his abandoned Congressional bid

July 25, 2008

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Six months after he dropped out of the race, contributors to a former congressional candidate are still waiting on their refunds.

State Sen. John Unger was favored among the Democrats seeking the nomination in West Virginia's 2nd U.S. House District. But the Berkeley County lawmaker abandoned his congressional bid in late January, on the last day for candidacy filings.

Unger raised more than $171,247, including more than $45,600 posted during the campaign finance period that ended June 30. He began attracting contributions in June 2007. His latest Federal Election Commission report, filed July 15, shows he still had at least $86,600 after paying campaign expenses.

But that filing also shows he's only refunded $5,000 to his contributors so far. He returned $4,000 of that to the leadership political action committees of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., two of several such PACs that sought to aid his effort.

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Both Unger and his campaign treasurer say they're trying to return the money.

"We're following the FEC's suggested method of going through it," said Unger, whose Senate seat is not on the ballot this year.

With the November election less than four months away, some of the waiting donors say they need the refunds to contribute to other candidates. Jennifer Fahey, a Charleston lawyer who gave $2,000 to Unger's campaign in December, said she has a set budget for political giving.

"If he's not running, and he's got the money, I would like it back," Fahey said. "There is definitely a limit to the amount of money I have to contribute to political campaigns."

A likely beneficiary of refunds is Democrat Anne Barth, who entered the 2nd District race within hours of Unger's abrupt departure. Barth bested two other Democrats to win her party's nod in the May primary to challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.

Unger campaign treasurer Kimberly Anne Sencindiver said she's begun writing the refund checks, by hand.

"They will all be posted on the next FEC report, but should be mailed out well before that date," Sencindiver said.

The next reports are due by Oct. 15. Sencindiver also said the most recent filing reflects contributions made during the first quarter of the year, but not received by her office until after that reporting period's deadline.

Unger, 39, cited pressing issues in his state Senate district when he quit the race. An ailing close family member also influenced that decision, he said Thursday.

"It was an exploratory committee. We just decided not to run," Unger said.

He also noted that Sencindiver is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, and homeland security assignments have delayed efforts to refund donors.

"She's the only one who can sign checks," he said. "It's not been intentional. We've been moving forward with it since she got back."

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