G-Comm™: Hoppy’s Commentary - Big Players Behind PAC for Tomblin
A previously little-noticed political action committee in West Virginia could turn into a significant player in this year’s gubernatorial election.
The PAC, called Stay the Course West Virginia, has formed to support Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s re-election. The PAC is being spearheaded by at least one major southern West Virginia businessman: Everett Hannah, a land owner and sawmill operator.
Organizers of the group are also trying to enlist the support of of Buck Harless, the iconic coal and timber operator from Gilbert. PAC leaders have met with him, but it’s unclear at this writing if Harless, who supports Tomblin and has business ties with Hannah, will play a role in the PAC.
Reportedly, the PAC members are concerned about the tightness of the race between Tomblin and Republican challenger Bill Maloney. Tomblin won last year’s special election by fewer than 8,000 votes and there is growing dissatisfaction in southern West Virginia over the slowdown in the coal industry. Additionally, Tomblin supporters are worried about the impact of President Obama at the top of the ticket.
Maloney is expected to get major financial support from the Republican Governor’s Association, which was a key player in the last election. It’s unclear if the Democratic Governor’s Association will be able to match the RGA dollar for dollar.
Additionally, given Obama’s rock bottom numbers in West Virginia, especially in the southern counties, some Tomblin supporters are concerned that the DGA may not be the right organization to spread the word about the current Governor.
One person familiar with the PAC said “they want to be able to balance the outside money that will attempt to tie Tomblin to Obama. “
The Stay the Course WV PAC hopes to raise a significant amount of campaign cash, somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million. Hannah and Harless are both wealthy and can write large personal checks, if they choose.
As noted in my commentary earlier this week, it was Harless who, in the 2000 election, helped deliver West Virginia for George Bush—a victory that changed the outcome of the race nationally. But according to one source, it’s still uncertain if Harless, 92, will sign on with this new project, though he has been actively recruited.
The public face of the PAC is expected to be Jason Parsons. The former WVU student body president and public relations professional will help with fundraising and media.
Normally, the fundraising efforts of a PAC would be strictly limited by West Virginia’s campaign finance laws. However, a federal judge’s decision last week cleared the way for unlimited fundraising.
U.S District Court Judge Thomas Johnston of West Virginia issued an order prohibiting the state from enforcing the law limiting financial contributions to political action committees.
The West Virginia law was passed in response to former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s spending $3 million in the 2004 state Supreme Court race. The law limited PAC contributions to $1,000 and prevented corporations from donating.
Stay the Course West Virginia, which in its legal papers lists its chairman and treasurer as David Bailey, who works for Hannah, challenged the law, saying it violated their rights. Judge Johnston agreed with the PAC, saying, “There is a significant public interest in upholding the free speech principles that are integral to our democratic society.”
The decision means that individuals or a corporation can raise an unlimited amount of money and spend it on political speech, as long as they operate independently of any candidate.
One Republican operative I asked about the Stay the Course PAC dismissed its possible influence, citing the fact that Election Day is so close. His theory was that the deep pockets have already made their commitments and there’s little time to raise additional money.
Normally, that logic would hold up, except in this case because of the players involved.