Editor's Note: If you have been curious about money, power and politics in West Virginia, you really should consider reading this story.

A special report by Lawrence Messina: The Charleston Gazette

Campaign Finance Bill Means Changes Here - State residents fund a wide range of candidates, causes

Sunday March 24, 2002

By Lawrence Messina
Staff Writer

For a poor state, West Virginia throws a lot of money around at election time, campaign finance data shows.

Only three other states spent as large a share of their Gross State Product on candidates, political action committees and parties as the Mountain State did in 2000, figures show.

And despite its reputation as a Democratic stronghold, West Virginia contributed more federal campaign cash to Republican causes in 2000. Just over half went to the GOP that year, and the giving gap has widened to 2-to-1 this election cycle.

In fact, campaign finance watchers could have predicted President Bush's victory in the state. More than 400 West Virginians contributed a total of $277,363 to Bush. Al Gore, meanwhile, amassed less than $53,000, and from one-fourth as many donors.

But West Virginia's political spending habits will now change, following last week's passage of federal campaign finance legislation.

For instance, Mountaineers have donated nearly $650,000 since 1998 in "soft money." The bill will ban such funds for national political parties and sharply limit them on the state level.

Peggy W. McCrory describes herself variously as "retired," "unemployed" and a "clerical homemaker." She is also West Virginia's largest individual donor to federal candidates, committees and PACs for 2000.

McCrory, of Beckley, contributed $57,950, Federal Election Commission records show. She spent the money entirely on Democrats, including $39,500 to the Democratic National Committee.

Federal law requires donors to list their employer and occupation every time they give more than $200, which McCrory did 40 times during the 2000 election cycle. She did not name an employer with her varying job descriptions.

A woman who identified herself as McCrory hung up the phone when a reporter contacted her last week.

The largest overall donor with a Mountain State address is actually a global corporation: Owens Corning. Its Charleston offices spent nearly $90,000 - all of it soft money - on 2000 campaigns. Nearly two-thirds of the funds benefited the Democratic Party.

Though a Fortune 500 company, Owens Corning has filed for bankruptcy protection amid the deluge of lawsuits filed over asbestos products. A number of those claims have been filed against the composite materials maker in West Virginia.

As for West Virginia's other top 10 donors:
James "Buck" Harless contributed $46,400. The Gilbert industrialist shared his money with 23 causes, including candidates in New York, Georgia, Tennessee, Arizona and Florida. All but $2,500 benefited Republicans.

Nursing home chain operator John Elliot gave $43,150, including $10,000 donated in the name of his company, AMFM Inc. Besides $9,900 to a health-care PAC, Elliot's money went to the state and national Democratic parties, and to candidate Martha Walker.

Despite rumblings over the "liberal media," a major West Virginia publisher donated almost exclusively to GOP causes. G. Ogden Nutting, whose newspapers in Wheeling, Parkersburg and elsewhere consistently opine against campaign finance reform, contributed $37,000 in 2000. Only $1,000 went to Democrats, and that was donated by other family members.

Financier Robert Ludwig and his family contributed $30,000, entirely to Republicans.

Dr. Jaywant Parmar of Wheeling gave Democratic causes $26,500.

Montgomery Equipment Co. owner Thomas Falbo and his family gave $26,100, entirely to Republicans.

Morgantown drug maker Milan Puskar and his company, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, contributed $22,600. Three-fourths of the money benefited Republicans, and went to candidates in California, North Carolina and Utah as well as border states.

Charleston lawyer Stanley Hostler gave Democrats $19,800.

Though he wasn't running for re-election in 2000, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., raised more money that year than a number of actively campaigning candidates in the Mountain State.

Rockefeller, who is on this year's ballot, gathered $152,950 from West Virginians. Without this effort, Republicans would have outpaced Democrats by an even greater margin among federal contributors in the state.

His senior colleague, meanwhile, amassed $388,450 from constituents. Sen. Robert C. Byrd faced no serious opposition in his 2000 re-election.

The easy win may explain why the venerable politician did not top the list of recipients of in-state largesse. That honor belongs to Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the state's sole Republican in Congress.

More than 800 West Virginians contributed to Capito, who raised $457,337 in the state. Her 2nd District opponent, Democrat Jim Humphreys, collected $128,170 from 195 in-state contributors.

Though he made the top 10, Humphreys raised less money in-state than Walker, whom he beat in the 2000 primary. She raised $162,398 from 343 West Virginians.

Besides these candidates and Bush, the other top 10 recipients were:
The Republican National Committee, which collected $171,444.

The state Democratic Executive Committee, which received $150,831.

The DNC gathered $114,648 from 126 people.

The National Republican Congressional Committee received $106,969 from 278 contributors.

Beneficiaries Near And Far

West Virginians fueled federal campaigns in 45 states, as well as 18 presidential campaigns, in 2000. But they spent most of their federal cash at home.

More than $1.6 million of the $3.4 million contributed from the Mountain State that year went to homegrown candidates, party groups and PACs. All five border states also benefited, to the tune of $80,450.

But New York saw more West Virginia campaign cash than any other state, thanks to the Senate race involving Hillary Clinton. She received about $8,000; her opponents reaped more than three times that amount.

More than 360 federal candidates and causes gained cash from West Virginians in 2000, FEC records show:

Nearly $40,000 funded third-party efforts.

More than 130 PACs, from trial lawyers and auto dealers, to both sides of the abortion debate, and to several coal-related outfits, received $366,000.

A Randolph County man sent $300 to David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klansman and white supremacist leader, for his failed 1999 U.S. House bid in Louisiana.

Perennial fringe candidate Lyndon LaRouche found 37 West Virginians willing to give him a total of $12,715 for his 2000 presidential campaign.

The Few Who Give

FEC records list 5,767 contributions from West Virginia for the 2000 election cycle. But the number of actual donors is actually quite less.

The roster boils down to about 2,000 Mountain State families. About 300 of these families contributed five or more times during the cycle; nearly 100 account for 10 or more each.

Residents of upscale South Hills in Charleston, for instance, supplied nearly 13 percent of the campaign cash, yet comprise 1/2 of 1 percent of the state's population. The neighborhood was the largest single source of federal campaign contributions in West Virginia, as ranked by ZIP code.

Such affluent pockets may help explain why the Mountain State provided political cash at a rate disproportionate to its economic health:
Only three states - Montana, Virginia and Louisiana - saw such contributions equal a larger share of their Gross State Product as West Virginia, whose GSP ranks 40th overall.

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