Freedom Fund targets Panhandle Democrats

October 29, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Democratic state Sen. Herb Snyder and his Republican opponent Jim Ruland have combined to spend more than $240,000 in their race for the 16th senatorial district seat in Jefferson County, according to campaign finance reports filed Friday.

But the candidates’ themselves have been not the only spenders in what appears to have become an increasingly expensive campaign, according to the state Secretary of State’s office.

Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, and fellow Democratic candidates Donn Marshall in Berkeley County and Del. Tiffany Lawrence, John Maxey and Stephen Skinner in Jefferson County, have been targeted by the Republican-run Eastern Panhandle Freedom Fund, which reported spending more than $27,000 Thursday, according to independent expenditure filings with the Secretary of State’s office.

Co-founded last year by Ruland and Patrick Morrisey, the Republican candidate for state attorney general, the Freedom Fund is a Charles Town-based 527 political organization, which Ruland said was started to fund “infrastructure” to help all GOP Eastern Panhandle candidates in the 2012 election.

Aside from the Freedom Fund, a $3,706 independent expenditure was reported by the Eastern Panhandle Small Business Alliance for Maxey and the state labor union organization, the West Virginia AFL-CIO has made three independent expenditures totaling $7,177 on Snyder’s behalf this month, according to the secretary of state’s office.

On Friday afternoon, Snyder, 59, reported to the Secretary of State’s office that he had spent $159,819.36 of $172,648 in campaign contributions, according to his financial statement.

Ruland’s campaign treasurer Robert C. Smith reported about five hours later that the 71-year-old Republican had received $26,894 in contributions, loaned himself a total of $75,000 and spent $87,504, according to his statement.

After seeing a mailer to voters that was paid for by the Freedom Fund, which targeted him, Marshall said he was disappointed by what he described as “New Jersey-style” campaign tactics.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this,” Marshall said. “We can’t talk about real issues, we have to make them up.”

Marshall’s opponent, Republican Mike Folk, said he had nothing to do with the mailer and indicated he didn’t know about the Freedom Fund.

“I think West Virginians are smart enough not to be fooled by any type of deceptive advertisements,” Folk said.

At first glance, the mailer appears to imply Marshall would vote to increase fees charged by state Division of Motor Vehicles for services.

Marshall said he wouldn’t raise a fee that would hurt West Virginia families.

Ruland, who served as the first treasurer of the Freedom Fund prior to Smith, acknowledged he did contribute to the organization, but didn’t have any knowledge of the Freedom Fund’s intentions, but indicated he would not be running a negative campaign against Snyder.

“What the EPFF is doing I can’t tell you,” Ruland said an interview about his campaign early this month.

Ruland said he and Morrisey, who are neighbors, never had a “penny’s worth of thought running for office” at the time they started the organization last year. At the time, Ruland said the idea was to support data collection for all area Republican candidates with such things as sign locations and media lists.

“If you accumulate over the years, you know, ‘the friendlies’ who have good sign locations and have that list and give it to everybody, it saves a ton of time,” Ruland said.

When people were asked to contribute to the fund, Ruland said potential donors were told it would benefit this type of infrastructure building effort.

Smith, who served as Ruland’s personal accountant and CPA for all of his companies and still serves as his campaign treasurer, stepped down on Sept. 28 as the Freedom Fund’s treasurer, but wasn’t made effective until Oct. 9 when the secretary of state’s office received the notice.

Ruland said Smith had no interest in continuing with the Freedom Fund when Ruland decided not to continue to be involved with it.

“The only reason it took as long as it did to get all that sorted out is because he’s a busy guy,” Ruland said.

“He was only doing it as a favor to me,” Ruland said.
Current Freedom Fund treasurer Suzanne Morgan could not be reached for comment about the mailers.
Campaign Finance Spending Year to Date as of Oct. 26

61st District
Jason Barrett $14,029
Walter Duke (i) $7,937

63rd District
Mike Folk $16,664
Donn Marshall $31,488

65th District
Tiffany Lawrence (i) $32,184
Jill Upson $22,070

66th District
Paul Espinosa $16,315
John Maxey $29,884

67th District
Elliot Simon $17,634
Stephen Skinner $49,568

Source: West Virginia Secretary of State

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