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Clearing Up A Few Matters

It’s fitting as I celebrate three years running the state government bureau for this newspaper in Charleston and my return to journalism after a brief sabbatical in state government that I confess to some unintentional mistakes in last week’s column.

If you recall, I wrote about some of the behind-the-scenes drama in the West Virginia Republican Party, including some lackluster fundraising numbers. John Findlay, the new-ish executive director of the state party, was none too pleased.

I can’t blame him. I didn’t make myself very clear in that column. Yes, according to the state party’s May Federal Election Commission report, the party only raised $163 during the period.

Here’s the rub though: The May report, despite its name, covers the month of April. So in reality, the state party only raised $163 in April according to the report I saw more than two weeks ago.

The other problem is the state party filed an amended May report with the FEC to which I was not privy. Instead of raising $163 in April, they raised $504. More than $163, yes, but still small. Luckily, the West Virginia Republican Party raised $4,047 according to their June FEC report (covering the month of May. I know, it’s confusing).

That doesn’t change the fact that the state party was 20 days late in filing the initial report (The May report for April was due May 20), resulting in the FEC sending a letter to the Republican Party on June 8, resulting in the party sending in the first May report on June 9. It was amended on June 20, the same day the June FEC report (covering May) was due.

But I should have been clearer that the May FEC report covered the month of April. I also should have double checked to see if any amended reports had been filed.

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The second round of West Virginia COVID-19 vaccine incentive lottery prizes went out last week, including the awarding of custom pick-up trucks, full-ride college scholarships, and a $1 million prize.

I was curious as to where some of the prizes were coming from, specifically the custom pick-up trucks. I filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the invoices for items purchased up to that point for the vaccine incentive lottery. I didn’t find anything terribly controversial, unless you are one of those who believe that money shouldn’t be spent on prizes for people getting partially vaccinated in the first place.

In regard to the trucks, the first four came from two separate dealerships. That’s not too surprising, given that it will likely vary based on availability. A Ford F-150 came from Moses Ford in St. Albans, costing $81,433. The other three trucks came from Thornhill Ford Lincoln in Chapmanville. A Chevrolet Silverado 1500 cost $69,398, one Ford F-150 cost $72,130, and another Ford F-150 cost $68,630.

Just for full disclosure, Justice received a total of $5,600 during the 2020 election cycle ($2,800 in the primary and $2,800 in the general) from Wally Thornhill, the owner of Thornhill Ford Lincoln. That’s a small amount considering the $1.9 million Justice raised during the election according to his most recent report.

The big money for Justice’s campaign came from the Moses family, owners and operators of Moses Ford. The Moses family donated $19,600 to the Justice campaign during the primary and general election. That’s still a small amount compared to Justice’s total campaign haul, but it is 24% of the cost of the Ford F-150 the state purchased from Moses.

I’m not alleging any quid pro quo. The fact of the matter is there are only so many locations you can find these types of specifically customized trucks. Both Moses and Thornhill are big truck dealerships. But I did feel as a matter of full disclosure it was worth looking up.

As for where the custom hunting rifles and shotguns are coming from, there were no invoices available for that as of the writing of this column. Other invoices included $327 for tackleboxes from Walmart as part of the lifetime fishing licenses prizes, $2,624 for hunting backpacks I assume for the lifetime hunting license prizes.

More than $825 was spent on 14 North Face backpacks and $1,499 for 30 natural woven seagrass nesting closest storage organizer basket bins. The state also paid $238 for embroidery for apparel bags for “Do It For Babydog” logos. I did not see an invoice specifically for the cost of the apparel bags.

Grand total for purchased items thus far (obviously not counting the $1 million prizes, the dollar amount for the hunting and fishing licenses, the state park getaways, the college scholarships or the hunting rifles and shotguns): $297,104.

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I want to thank you for reading this column or reading any of the multitude of articles I’ve written over the last three years. My job only exists thanks to your attention and subscriptions. The number of reporters actively covering state government is dwindling. I’m forever thankful this paper sees the value of in-person reporting on the goings on under the gold dome. If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

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