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Questions follow campaign donations to Mingo political action committee

Debbie Rolen
Staff Writer

11 months 27 days 10 hours ago |231 Views | | | Email | Print

CHARLESTON — Several financial contributions made by the campaigns of public officials to a Mingo County political action committee may have done so illegally.


The campaigns for Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick, state Sen. Art Kirkendoll, Treasurer John Perdue and state Senate candidate Mark Wills gave up to $1,000 each to the Team Mingo 2012 political action committee.


That money was given to the PAC for a variety of reasons, according to campaign filings with the secretary of state’s office.


Team Mingo 2012 is an unaffiliated PAC, according to the secretary of state’s website.


West Virginia code does not allow for active candidate campaigns to make donations to unaffiliated PACs.


“No, that’s not legal,” said Jake Glance, spokesman for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s office.


West Virginia election law outlines 16 allowable reasons for campaign expenses.


Those purposes include rent, advertising and polling.


The only allowable expenditure that references PACs reads, “for the purchase of memorials, flowers or citations by political party executive committees or political action committees representing a political party.”


“That means if it’s not on the list, you can’t do it,” Glance said.


Team Mingo represents a Democratic faction in Mingo County, where Democrats typically duke it out without any challenge from Republicans, Prosecutor C. Michael Sparks said.


Without prompting, Sparks distributed a letter Saturday to various news organizations saying he was not a member of the Team Mingo 2012 PAC. He was a member of the Team Mingo 2012 ticket - most of whom won their primary or general elections, he said - but that’s different from the PAC.


Sparks said the PAC probably contributed money to rallies in which he participated. But he did not contribute any money to the PAC, and the PAC didn’t give his campaign any money directly.


“There’s been a lot of negative publicity, perhaps some fair, perhaps some unfair, but I didn’t want to be connected,” Sparks said.


The elected officials whose campaigns made the questionable contributions are experienced, Sparks said. He thought the move was a mistake, but could be evidence of a statewide issue.


As far as the Team Mingo 2012 PAC is concerned, Sparks wanted to point out there is a difference between the PAC and the ticket. The ticket was a “political marketing concept,” Sparks said.


Greg “Hootie” Smith is a Mingo County commissioner and treasurer for the Team Mingo 2012 PAC. In May 2012 he told the Daily Mail the PAC’s goal was to pay advertising expenses.


Smith said Friday afternoon he was on vacation in Myrtle Beach and did not have any of the financial reports readily available. He said he remembered the PAC received contributions from Wills, Kirkendoll and Helmick. He couldn’t immediately remember any contribution from Perdue, but said, “if it’s on the report, that’s correct.”


Smith said he did not know contributions by a candidate’s campaign to an unaffiliated PAC were not permitted. He later said he wasn’t sure of the specifics of a rule, but thought there was something in code about contributions from campaigns that were not active.


“As treasurer for Team Mingo, I will do whatever the Secretary of State tells me needs to be done,” Smith said.


Helmick’s campaign gave the PAC $1,000 on April 20, 2012, according to his filings with the secretary of state’s office. The report lists “advertising” as the purpose of the expense.


In an email, Glance said advertising is a legal expenditure. When asked if it was legal even if the money for advertising goes to an unaffiliated PAC, Glance responded, “We don’t have all the facts right now from those involved and we are not prepared to comment any further.”


Helmick, a Democrat, defeated Republican Kent Leonhardt in the November 2012 election to become Agricultural Commissioner. Attempts to contact Helmick’s campaign treasurer David Hill were unsuccessful.


Wills, a Democrat, lost his bid for state Senate to Republican Bill Cole. On April 23, Wills’ campaign gave $700 to Team Mingo. The campaign reports lists “campaign” as the purpose of the expenditure.


The PAC campaign statement reports a $700 contribution on the same day from Pat Wilson, Wills’ campaign treasurer. It’s the only listed contribution for $700 on that day. Wilson did not return a phone message.


Kirkendoll is a Democrat state senator from Logan County. On Nov. 2, 2012 his campaign gave $1,000 to Team Mingo. The purpose was “Mingo gen-elec” according to the Secretary of State’s website.


It should read “Mingo gen-elec committee,” said campaign treasurer Daniel Williamson. Williamson said he could not reach Kirkendoll, and did not provide further information about the nature of the expense.


Perdue is also a Democrat and has served as treasurer since 1996. He defeated Republican challenger Mike Hall in the fall.


Team Mingo campaign financial statements show a $1,000 contribution from Perdue on Nov. 2, 2012. It lists Perdue’s address as “PO Box 5540, Charleston, WV.” Perdue’s campaign did not officially list that address for it’s 2012 election filings. The address was previously used for “John Perdue for Governor,” according to the Secretary of State’s website.


Perdue’s 2012 filings show a $1,000 donation made on Nov. 2, 2012 to “Mingo County DEC” for “sponsorship.”


The Mingo County Democratic Executive Committee is an executive committee PAC. It did not receive any financial contributions during 2012, according to filings.


Perdue’s filing lists a Keyser address for the “Mingo County DEC.” The listed address is the one used by the Mineral County Democratic Executive Committee. It did not receive any donations from Perdue during 2012, according to the filings.


Perdue campaign treasurer Patrick Maroney did not return a phone message.


The secretary of state’s office was not aware of any potential violations of this nature concerning the Team Mingo PAC.


“We’re going to be making some phone calls,” Glance said.


There is no specific penalty listed for a candidate’s campaign giving money to an unaffiliated PAC.


The penalty for most specific violations of elections law are misdemeanors, with fines and jail time possible, according to the “offenses and penalties” section of state elections law.


“Normally, what happens is, if that happens, they have to basically give the money back and file an amended campaign finance report,” Glance said.


Allegations of illegal activity surrounding elections in Mingo County are not new.


In a May 2012 article in the Daily Mail, members of both Democratic factions accused the other of illegal activity. Glance told the Daily Mail at the time the secretary of state’s office was in Mingo County every day.


Sparks said it was the “cleanest election that Mingo County has seen in a while.”


Rumors and speculation persist, Smith and Sparks said. Smith said there’s nothing to those whispers, adding he’s not aware of any wrongdoing by any elected official in Mingo County.


“What I would say as prosecuting attorney: I can’t confirm or deny that there’s a federal investigation,” Sparks said. “Those questions should be made toward the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”


“I’m sure there are ways you could confirm things,” he added later in the conversation.

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