blair

Dark money floods eastern panhandle, sinks Senate President Blair

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

Senate President Craig Blair, who also serves as the state’s Lt. Governor, lost in the primary election earlier this month to Tom Willis, a lawyer and member of the West Virginia National Guard from Berkeley County. Blair is a longtime leader in the state Republican party who had amassed a huge war chest for this election season. But an influx of dark money in the closing weeks of the election seems to have sealed his defeat. (‘Dark money” refers generally to election spending where the source of the funds is unknown or obscured.)

“Over the last month, Stand for Us spent over $400,000 to defeat Blair,” said Katie Miller, Chair of Stand for Us, a federal Political Action Committee (PAC). Miller said they used the money “informing the Senate President’s constituents about how he led the charge to strengthen a federal program that uses taxpayer dollars to subsidize health care for illegal immigrants.”

Who is ‘Stand for Us’?

Stand for Us PAC registered with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s (WVSOS) office on April 12, 2024. Their address is a Post Office box in Austin, Texas. Miller and Cabell Hobbs are listed on the paperwork as the group’s contacts. From the time they registered on April 12 until they filed a campaign finance report on May 3, they received $174,301.39 in contributions. All of that money came from their own federal PAC between April 15 and April 25. 

In a campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), however, the federal Stand for Us PAC reported having no cash on hand. That report was also filed on April 12, 2024. 

PACs and Super PACs are required to disclose their donors, unlike “social welfare” organizations which are not required to do so by federal election law. However, Stand for Us has not filed any reports disclosing any of their donors to the FEC. 

RealWV reached out to Stand for Us via phone to ask for clarification on these issues, but the call went to voicemail and has not been returned.

“Our paid media…turned the tide of this race”

According to reports filed with the WVSOS, Stand for Us alternated between spending money against Blair and for Willis. All were meant to help Willis defeat Blair. 

Miller released a statement after Blair lost, seemingly bragging about the PAC’s efforts. She said that they polled the race before spending any money on it, finding Blair with a +12 favorable rating and an 11-point lead over Willis. 

“Therefore, our strategy was two-fold: 1) Launch a sustained assault against Blair on the issue of immigration before he could respond and stunt growth to his image and ballot share, and 2) relentlessly promote WIllis so he could take advantage of the opening presented by our attacks on Blair,” she said. 

Stand for Us continued to poll the race numerous times over the course of their advertising campaign. As it continued, they saw his numbers drop while Willis’ rose. 

“Those (voters) who had seen, read, and heard about Blair were abandoning the Senate President…while those receiving information on Willis were breaking for the outsider 56%-21%,” she said. “Our paid media blasting Blair and praising Willis turned the tide of this race and allowed Willis to a historic, double-digit victory.” 

Willis won the primary race and will now face Anthony Murray this fall for the 15th district Senate seat. Blair will continue to serve as Senate President until the next legislative session begins in early 2025. Senate Republicans will elect a new Senate President at that time.

Did Blair support using taxpayer funds for the health care of illegal immigrants?

The basis of the PAC’s attack ads against Blair revolved around subsidized health care for illegal immigrants. Blair denies the attack, and the record seems to back him up. 

Stand for Us points to Senate Bill 325, which was passed unanimously by the Senate, overwhelmingly by the House, and approved by Governor Jim Justice earlier this year. The bill was sponsored by Senators Takubo, Woodrum, Deeds, Weld, Woelfel, Plymale, and Hamilton. 

Takubo explained the bill on the floor, saying, “What this program really does is help those that are trying to climb out of poverty but they don’t qualify for Medicaid. And they’re trying to afford their medicines, and they have real health problems.” 

“About a year or so ago, big pharma decided, ‘Well, we haven’t made enough profit,’” Takubo said in speaking for the bill, which he said would help lower prescription drug bills for senior citizens. The Senate passed the bill unanimously. 

According to a report from Bloomberg Law earlier this year, political and lobbying organizations funded by the pharmaceutical industry began fighting bills such as SB 325 in states across the country earlier this year. 

“Opposition to the state legislation comes from the pharmaceutical industry,” writes Nyah Phengsitthy. “The industry group and drugmakers argue the state laws interfere with federal law and impose additional requirements that encroach on the federal government’s authority over the program.” 

A phone call to Stand for Us, seeking to find out whether the pharmaceutical industry financially supported their lobbying efforts against Blair and others or if they just used this matter as a wedge issue, was not returned. 

Connection to prominent WV politician? 

Besides Katie Miller, the only name listed on any of paperwork for Stand for Us PAC is Cabell Hobbs. He’s connected to numerous other super PACs such as those supporting Ted Cruz and Ron DeSantis. And he’s also listed on the FEC paperwork for the state’s most prominent Republican official—Jim Justice. 

Justice is currently serving as governor and is seeking to be the state’s next US Senator to replace the retiring Joe Manchin. 

Cabell Hobbs is listed on his paperwork as the “Assistant Treasurer” for the Justice campaign, working underneath Terry Miller, a longtime Justice friend and employee at The Greenbrier Resort. The address listed for Hobbs is the Charleston campaign office of Justice. RealWV called a phone number listed for Hobbs on a separate FEC filing, and it has not been returned as of publication.

Stand for Us is not the only dark money group that worked to defeat Blair. Stay tuned for a followup story coming soon.

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