West Virginia ‘outside’ group run by state GOP committee members

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Photo of the domed West Virginia capitol building reflected in the Kanawha River at night

A mysterious outside group spent $1.4 million helping Republicans take over the West Virginia state house. (Photo credit: Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

This post has been updated with a statement from Grow West Virginia, and information from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.

A West Virginia super PAC that told the Federal Election Commission it spent more than $1.4 million, mostly in state races just ahead of the election, appears to be headed by two members of the state Republican party’s executive committee.

Mark D. Scott and John McCutcheon are both directors of Grow West Virginia, according to state documents. State campaign finance rules say that independent expenditures — the kind made by super PACs — cannot be made “in concert or cooperation with or at the request of… a political party committee or its agents”.

Eric Lycans, the group’s lawyer, responded to questions with a written statement that any suggestion Grow West Virginia “violated any campaign finance laws or coordinated its communications with the Republican Party is false.” Scott and McCutcheon and Grow West Virginia’s third director, Lecia Smith, did not respond to requests for comment.

Representatives from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office would not weigh in on whether expenditures made by an outside group headed by a state party’s executive committee members would violate state rules.

Grow West Virginia’s filings with the Federal Election Commission reveal far more spending than the super PAC reported to state officials. In an Oct. 10 filing with the state, Grow West Virginia reported making $73,718 in independent expenditures supporting or opposing a 19 candidates for state office. Yet filings with the Federal Election Commission show the group spending more than $1 million since the beginning of September, including at least $284,000 on TV ads, $872,000 on direct mail and $172,000 on polling and research — all to support GOP candidates for state office.

Lycans’ statement said that Grow West Virginia PAC had begun by reporting independent expenditures, but noticed that union groups backing Democrats were not reporting theirs, and took the matter up with the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees campaigns and elections. “Upon inquiring with the West Virginia Secretary of State, Grow WV was told that the law was interpreted to the effect that federal committees did not file independent expenditure reports, and that the Secretary of State had taken a no-enforcement position.”

The November election saw Republicans take control of West Virginia’s state Senate and House of Delegates. Next year will be the first time in eight decades that the GOP has controlled both of the state’s legislative chambers.

Scott sits on the state Republican committee’s executive committee representing the state’s 11th Senatorial district while McCutcheon represents the 10th district, according to the state committee’s website. A representative said the two men still served on the committee, though a spokesmen wasn’t immediately available to comment.

Lycans was asked about McCutcheon and Scott’s position on the state executive committee, which both men were elected to on May 13 of this year. In the statement, he said only that Scott “resigned his position as Vice Chairman of the WV Republican Party when he came with Grow WV.” The statement did not address McCutcheon’s role.

West Virginia law requires the chair of any political party’s executive committee to notify the Secretary of State’s office within 10 days whenever an executive committee member resigns. But the Secretary of State’s office said they haven’t received any notice of Scott or McCutcheon resigning.

The biggest donor to the group was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, which gave $500,000. The Republican State Leadership Committee gave $220,000 and Ken Kendrick, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, gave $100,000.

The second biggest donor, however, was a group listed as “Go West Virginia, Inc.” a non-profit group also founded by Mark D. Scott, according to tax documents. It gave $355,000, though it’s not clear where that money came from. Politically active non-profit groups are not required to register to provide lists of donors to federal campaign officials.

Scott, who runs an insurance agency in Elkins, West Virginia, says on his LinkedIn page that he’s a city councilman there. Scott identifies himself as vice chairman of of the 2nd Congressional District of the state Republican party, where he is “currently coordinating candidate recruitment for state House and Senate seats statewide.” It is not clear when the page was last updated.

It’s not clear from public documents if Grow West Virginia PAC is headed by the same man, but John McCutcheon is a familiar name in the state’s politics. He worked for former West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood, and was West Virginia director of President George W. Bush’s 2001 campaign before becoming White House liason to the Energy Department. He also worked on Mitt Romney’s campaign. He’s also been thinking of putting Republicans in charge of the state for a while. According to an account of his wedding, his groom cake depicted “an elephant stepping on the West Virginia Blue Book“.