CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia’s top state legal official, says his campaign was obligated to send a letter to the probation officer of one of his opponents, Don Blankenship, who spent a year in prison on a federal mine safety conspiracy charge.
The letter was about the Blankenship campaign’s failure to submit a federally-required campaign finance form.
Blankenship blew it off.
“I think he’s an attorney who doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Blankenship told a national media outlet during a campaign news briefing this afternoon.
Congressman Evan Jenkins, another of the leading candidates for U.S. Senate, questioned whether the decision was wise politics.
Morrisey stood by the choice for his campaign to reach out to Blankenship’s probation officer in Nevada, two days before Election Day.
Blankenship’s supervised release ends at midnight on Election Night.
A letter sent from Morrisey’s campaign noted that Blankenship’s campaign blew past a deadline on submitting a required personal financial disclosure form.
According to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics, a candidate for U.S. Senate must file 30 days after becoming a candidate or May 15 of that calendar year, whichever is later, but he must file 30 days before the election.
Morrisey called Blankenship 129 days late — which he calculated as 30 days from Nov. 28, 2017, when Blankenship first loaned his campaign $200,000.
“We believe that’s a clear violation,” Morrisey said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” “And he did not go through the right process. This is his background. It’s a pattern and practice of thinking he’s above the law. That’s why I wanted to raise it because I think it’s important for voters to know that information.”
Morrisey said the form is not just a formality.
“You need to know someone’s finances, their income, their liability, potential conflicts of interests. There are so many things voters can look at and make an evaluation. All the other candidates have submitted. Why is Don Blankenship above the law?”
The Morrisey campaign’s letter to the chief probation officer at the U. S. Probation Office, District of Nevada, where Blankenship has made his home, makes reference to potentially severe violations. “Knowing or willful violations of the Act have civil and criminal implications,” the Morrisey campaign wrote.
“We respectfully request that your office promptly review the matter and determine whether the terms of Don Blankenship’s supervised release have been violated,” wrote Charles R. Spies, counsel to Morrisey for Senate, Inc.
Reacting to the letter today on “Talkline,” Blankenship dismissed the letter by the Morrisey campaign. He again said his finances are complicated and that he’s been otherwise occupied.
“I’ve been a little busy driving 2,100 miles a week and making 17 speeches a week.It’s a complicated thing for me, maybe unlike some others who don’t have the assets that I have. It’s a much easier thing.
“I have complied with the law, and I talked to the probation office to make sure they understood that Mr. Morrisey might send them a letter and they thought it was laughable because it’s a civil issue, not a criminal issue. It’s akin to being late on your power bill, and you pay a late charge fee.”
Blankenship concluded, “It’s just Patrick Morrisey trying to make noise. He’s desperate right now.”
The letter is from Morrisey’s campaign and does not overtly represent his current job as West Virginia’s Attorney General.
But a recent lawsuit against a candidate for Congress, state Senator Richard Ojeda, questioned whether the candidate can truly be separated from their current elected position.
Ojeda was accused of pressuring a Logan County employer to fire a man who had taken video of the candidate driving left of the center line while placing campaign signs in Logan County. One of the questions in the lawsuit is whether Ojeda used the power of his office to retaliate.
Asked this morning about the campaign representing the Attorney General acted appropriately by sending a letter to Blankenship’s probation officer, Congressman Evan Jenkins — another of the leading candidates — said it’s not a decision he would have made.
“Patrick Morrisey is desperate,” Jenkins said. “This is a last-ditch Hail Mary effort by Patrick to try to get attention. The idea that he’s gonna, yesterday, pick up the phone and call a probation officer and try to call out Don Blankenship — Don Blankenship has said callously that he’s not going to file these financial reports.
“It is the law. He should file them. He has a legal obligation to file. That tells you volumes about Don Blankenship. But the fact that Patrick Morrisey — rather than trying to bring the party together, trying to advance his own candidacy and his vision for West Virginia — he’s spending his last 24, 48 hours making calls to Nevada complaining about another candidate.”