CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A labor-backed group called Mountain State Values has already spent more than $2 million in an attempt to defeat several incumbent Republican state senators and several other Republican candidates for Senate in the Nov. 3 General Election in hopes of helping Democrats gain control of the upper body.
An analysis of campaign spending by MetroNews shows the group has targeted nine challenged Senate races between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans currently have control of the state Senate holding 20 of the 34 seats.
Mountain State Values has spent money for negative ads and mailings against Senator Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson; Senator Mike Maroney, R-Marshall; and Senator Ryan Weld, R-Brooke. All who face Democratic challengers.
The group is also spending against Del. Patrick Martin, R-Lewis, who is trying to upset incumbent Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, and Kathie Hess Crouse, who is bidding to win the 8th District seat over incumbent Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam.
The committee has made significant spending against Del. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, who is running for an open Senate seat against Del. Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha. Former Republican Senator Robert Karnes, who defeated incumbent Sen. John “J.R.” Pitsenbarger for the Republican nomination in June and Republican candidate Rebecca Polis have also been targeted by the group. Polis is facing Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, who is trying to cross over to the Senate after Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, decided not to seek reelection. Caputo is a longtime member of the UMWA.
Campaign finance filings show the group has spent money against Summers County Commission President Jack David Woodrum, who is facing former senator Bill Laird, D-Fayette, for an open seat. Mountain State Values has spent money in support of Laird.
The campaign financial statement for the entire 2020 election year lists the group’s total contributions at $4.4 million while $3.9 million has been spent.
Mountain State Values, which is classified as an independent expenditure committee, is funded mostly by labor unions. The most recent campaign finance information filed with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office shows the top contributor to be the West Virginia Building & Construction Trades Council which has given $1.5 million of the total $2.1 million that Mountain State Values currently lists as its total contributions. The Charleston-based Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 132 has given $350,000 and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Solidarity has given $200,000 to the committee.
Mountain State Values spokesperson Lou Ann Johnson told MetroNews the group represents “tens of thousands of hard working West Virginia families.”
“We support candidates who will stand up for those families and who will fight for the next generation of West Virginians to receive a high quality education and access to jobs with fair wages, good benefits and a safe workplace. We oppose candidates who support the Mitch Carmichael anti-worker, anti-educator, anti-family agenda,” Johnson said.
Carmichael was defeated in the primary election by fellow Republican Amy Nichole Grady. Grady is a classroom teacher in Mason County and her General Election race is not targeted by the group.
Johnson said state residents deserve better than the current legislative leadership.
“The recent legislative sessions have again shown West Virginians that the current leadership in Charleston works only to benefit out of state corporations and billionaire CEO’s at the expense of working West Virginians and our families. We deserve better, that’s why we believe West Virginia citizens deserve to know the truth,” Johnson said.
Nelson said he’s been targeted in “an extreme amount of volume of mailers and digital.” He called the information “false negatives.” Nelson said he’s not in favor and hasn’t been in favor of raising the consumer sales tax. He also takes issue with an ad that says he’s not in favor of funding safety equipment for police.
Nelson has fired back with ads on his voting record and negative ads against Robinson.
Robinson, who said his campaign has focused on building the economy among other issues, told MetroNews that “unfortunately negative campaigning has become part of what politics are across the country.”
“My interest is to stick with policy and ideas,” Robinson said. “We need to stick to things that the two of us have supported on not supported in the past. If we can stay away from personal attacks we’d be better off.”
Five expenditure reports filed on Oct. 2, Oct. 6, Oct. 10 and Oct. 14, show expenditures into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Each of the five reports show spending against Weld, Maroney, Karnes, Nelson and Martin. Most of the money went to Washington, D.C.-based political consulting and media firms like The Campaign Workshop, Targeted Platform Media and Lookout Media.
By comparison, Mountain State Values is spending very little money in challenged races in the House of Delegates where Republicans also hold the advantage. It has made expenditures in recent weeks in ads against Del. Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam; Del. Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas and Del. Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson.