W.Va. gubernatorial candidates build campaign coffers before filing period
CHARLESTON — Several Republican and Democratic candidates for governor of West Virginia ended 2019 with thousands of dollars in campaign contributions going into the candidate filing period starting Monday.
Campaign finance reports for the 4th quarter of 2019 — covering campaign contributions from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 — were due Jan. 7 by midnight.
All candidates are precandidates, allowing potential candidates for office to test the waters and start fundraising efforts prior to the candidate filing period that starts today for the primary election filing period. Any precandidate who receives more than $500 in campaign donations must submit the annual report to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.
REPUBLICAN FUNDRAISING NUMBERS
Gov. Jim Justice, who is in the fourth year of his first term as governor, was able to raise $409,833 during the quarter — the best fundraising numbers of the year. Of that amount, $14,485 came from small-dollar donations of $250 or less; and $51,485 came from donations above the $250 threshold, requiring stricter disclosure requirements.
Another $192,454 was raised — after expenses — from an Oct. 17 fundraiser at Justice’s Greenbrier Resort with Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle. A Huntington fundraiser Nov. 26 — two days before Thanksgiving — raised $25,612 after expenses. On Oct. 24, the Justice campaign held a fundraiser in Clarksburg, bringing in $106,835 after expenses.
One notable donation from that event was $2,800 from Larry Puccio, former chief of staff to former secretary of state and governor Joe Manchin, former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, former campaign chairman for Justice’s 2016 Democratic Party run for governor, and chairman of Justice’s transition committee. Puccio has also served as a lobbyist for the Greenbrier Resort.
Justice, who switched from Democrat to Republican in 2017, has loaned his campaign $380,500, including $55,000 in the last three months. The campaign has $228,905 in unpaid bills, and Justice has $67,183 in cash-on-hand going into the Republican primary.
Woody Thrasher, co-owner of the engineering firm The Thrasher Group and a former cabinet secretary in the Justice administration before being forced to resign, has loaned his campaign nearly $1.6 million as of the end of 2019 — $917,000 in just the 4th quarter alone. His campaign haul for the quarter came in at $59,939. After expenses, Thrasher is sitting on $106,204 in cash-on-hand.
Of his 4th quarter fundraising numbers, $5,989 came from small-dollar donors, while $52,489 came from large-dollar donors. Thrasher, also a former Democrat before switching parties to Republican last spring, held only one fundraiser in Charleston, bringing in $6,650.
“Woody has been hard at work since day one, connecting with thousands of Republicans all over the state and focusing on proving his character and his values,” said Ann Ali, communications director for the Thrasher campaign. “It’s no surprise to us that so many of these folks are confirming their belief in Woody’s message by choosing to donate to the campaign, even without substantial fundraising efforts on his part thus far.”
Recent internal polling from the Thrasher campaign puts him gaining on Justice. In that mid-December poll, Justice had 38 percent of the likely Republican primary voters polled, compared to 30 percent for Thrasher. However, the independent West Virginia Poll sponsored by WV MetroNews — conducted in early December — had Justice at 56 percent and Thrasher at 20 percent. Roman Stauffer, campaign manager for Justice, said Thrasher’s effort to buy the race wasn’t working.
“Despite spending nearly $2 million, Woody Thrasher trails Governor Justice by 36 points according to West Virginia MetroNews polling released in mid- December,” said Stauffer. “The question is, will Woody Thrasher continue to burn millions more of his own money, or will he acknowledge he has no path forward and drop out of this race?”
Mike Folk, a former Republican member of the House of Delegates representing Berkeley County, raised a modest $17,550 during the quarter. Of that, $3,599 came from small-dollar donations and $11,130 came from large-dollar donations. One fundraiser in Parkersburg netted $900. A $10,000 loan to the campaign brings Folk up to $61,000 in loans. After expenses, Folk, has $76,667 in cash-on-hand.
“We raised more money in the last three weeks of December through small-dollar contributions than the first part of the quarter,” Folk said. “The momentum is continuing in January. This is truly a grassroots campaign, backed by the people of West Virginia. My message of free market principles, fiscal responsibility, constitutional principles, and putting West Virginians first is gaining momentum; providing West Virginians a real choice, not an echo, in the Republican primary.”
DEMOCRATIC FUNDRAISING NUMBERS
On the Democratic side, community organizer Stephen Smith and the West Virginia Can’t Wait movement continue to break records in small-dollar donations.
Smith, the former director of the WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition and a founder of Our Children Our Future, raised $121,393 for the 4th quarter, bring his total contributions for 2019 to $575,037.
Most of that was raised from more than 7,000 small-dollar donations, breaking a record set by former secretary of state Natalie Tennant during her primary campaign for governor in a special election after Manchin resigned to fill the unexpired term of the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Smith is sitting on $395,996 in cash-on-hand.
“Three months ago, we broke the record for the number of small donations in a Governor’s race ever. This quarter, we doubled it,” Smith said. “We have 10 times the number of donations from West Virginians as any of our opponents. Those West Virginians aren’t just with us, they’re doing the work each and every day to ensure this movement can win.”
Of Smith’s campaign contributions during the quarter, $41,288 came from small-dollar donors. Another $90,588 came from large-dollar donors. Smith also held 19 fundraisers between October and December, including one in Pittsburgh, Pa., and one in Washington, D.C.