Greenbrier House Candidates use ‘Biblical Values’ and Mississippi businesses to attack each other

By Matthew Young, RealWV

Republican and unaffiliated voters in Greenbrier County have been buried beneath an onslaught of political mailers in recent weeks. And with Primary Election Day now just hours away, these home-delivered spam ads have descended even further down the rabbit hole of ridiculousness. 

By now, most people know what these political mailers really are: a candidate’s final “Hail Mary” attempt at making a fool of their opponent right before Election Day. They are typically sent by some supposedly unaffiliated political action committee (PAC) that is free to make accusations toward opponents of their chosen candidate without maintaining the illusion of decency during the campaign. The accusations don’t need to be relevant, fair, or even factual, as these generic PACs will never have to publicly back up their statements or substantiate their claims. 

The race for the House of Delegates District 46 GOP nomination has been fraught with this type of “anonymous spam campaigning,” with two PACs in particular leading the charge toward the nonsensical. 

“West Virginians for Biblical Values” was formed in 2018, but hasn’t been active since. The PAC was registered with the Secretary of State’s office just over a month ago, with final campaign approval coming on April 15. The approval was granted to Dean Brdlik, and lists Trey Ewing, a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates in District 46, as treasurer. The PAC is also registered to Ewing’s home address. 

One of the only two “actions” this action committee has taken thus far was to spend just under $1,150 on a mail campaign attacking incumbent Delegate Jeff Campbell – a dollar amount which Ewing, Campbell’s primary challenger, approximately matched for the mailer’s creation. Beneath the PAC’s logo, small lettering advises that the ad was, “Paid for by West Virginians for Biblical Values in coordination with Ewing for House.”

The mailer itself encourages voters to visit a website which appears to be run by Jeff Campbell, but is actually run by a third party in hopes of tarnishing Campbell’s electoral chances. The website is guarded by layers of privacy, meaning the author has remained anonymous since it appeared several months ago. However, with Ewing and West Virginians for Biblical Values directing voters to it, it seems they have at least some vested interest.

Now comes the question: are candidates for office legally allowed to work with PACs to campaign? More specifically, can a candidate who is also himself the officer of a PAC coordinate political efforts? 

While certainly very murky, the short answer is yes. 

According to General Counsel Donald Kersey with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, “It’s an interesting scenario for a candidate to run a PAC and coordinate expenditures.”

State law does not expressly prohibit coordination, but it does require very specific reporting. Both Ewing and West Virginians for Biblical Values filed their campaign finance reports late this week, however neither reported the coordinated expenditure. 

Election law requires a firewall between candidates and PACs who are advocating for or against a candidate. They are not even allowed to communicate with one another. However, the law does provide for both parties to engage in a “coordinated expenditure” so long as they disclose their joint activities, such as with the disclaimer on the Ewing mailer, and report them on campaign finance reports. 

While the mailer attacking Jeff Campbell does contain a disclaimer saying it’s being done jointly by the Ewing campaign and West Virginians for Biblical Values, neither the campaign nor the PAC properly disclose the expenditure in paperwork filed with the West Virginia Secretary of State as required by law. 

Trey Ewing’s campaign finance report does not list the coordinated expenditure as a donation or an in-kind contribution. He does list an expenditure of $1,138.82 for “direct mail” with Vista Print. Ewing himself signed the report and submitted it to the Secretary of State. 

The second “action” taken by this PAC, which has not been disclosed at all on any campaign finance reporting, was a recent text message campaign. And while the message does advise recipients to “Please vote for Trey Ewing,” and “Please DO NOT VOTE” for his two primary opponents, this campaign’s disclaimer reads: “Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”

If this disclaimer is true, that would mean that the PAC which exists in Trey Ewing’s home, and whose money Trey Ewing manages, and whose expense reporting Trey Ewing is responsible to file with the Secretary of State, facilitated and paid for an attack ad text message campaign that Trey Ewing was oblivious to. 

On the other end of the spam campaigning spectrum is the “Mountaineer Majority Fund.” This PAC is very active in other regions, and was approved by the Secretary of State’s office for activity in West Virginia less than two weeks ago. That approval was granted to the son of former Delegate, current Acting Revenue Secretary, and candidate to be West Virginia’s next State Treasurer Larry Pack. 

As part of their initial expense report, the “Mountaineer Majority Fund” reported paying $2,998 to Bulls Eye Public Affairs, in Jackson, Mississippi, for political mailers on behalf of Greenbrier County Delegate Jeff Campbell. The PAC has made similar payments on behalf of other candidates throughout the state. 

The Mountaineer Majority Fund ad attacks Ewing for his age and lack of experience. 

“At just 21 years of age,” the ad charges, “what qualifies him to defend Hard Working Families?”

Just between these two mail campaigns, nearly $5,300 has been spent so that Greenbrier County’s political candidates can tear their fellow community members to shreds in the most denigrating way possible. That money is pouring in from outside sources, and going to out-of-state businesses. That money is coming from candidates who may or may not be skirting campaign finance law, and organizations invoking the Bible to convince voters that they’re chosen candidate is somehow Godly in their ambitions. 

But worst of all, that money is coming from the contributions you have made to Greenbrier County candidates. Demand more from the people who want to represent you. 

The early voting period is now concluded, and Primary Election Day in West Virginia is Tuesday, May 14. 

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