Nov. 08–Gov. Jim Justice and his senior adviser appeared in a cross between a political ad and infomercial Monday evening, paid for by a group headed by a longtime aide to former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship.
The 30-minute segment, titled “Perfect Storm,” aired on WVVA, an NBC affiliate based in Bluefield. It consisted of Bray Cary, an adviser to Justice and board member of publicly traded natural-gas driller EQT Corp., interviewing the governor about the potential goodness of Republicans if they swept Tuesday’s elections.
The ad was paid for by West Virginians for Fair Courts, which is headed by Greg Thomas, a longtime GOP consultant in West Virginia and campaign manager to Blankenship for his Senate run in the Republican primary earlier this year.
According to disclosures to the Federal Communications Commission, the group paid $5,000 to run the ad, which included campaign plugs for Republicans like Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and congressional candidate Carol Miller, and for nonpartisan judicial candidates like West Virginia Supreme Court Justices Tim Armstead and Evan Jenkins.
Along with Cary interviewing Justice in a format reminiscent of a Charlie Rose interview, the segment features a video compilation of news clips generally focused on positive economic news in the state.
Justice played that same video package at a news conference in early October, before announcing a plan to put excess revenue into a public employees insurance program and offer another 5 percent raise to teachers and other state employees. The video also features an interview with Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy.
Brian Abraham, Justice’s general counsel, said the video clip was prepared with state resources but became part of the public domain when Justice uploaded it to a public Facebook and YouTube account. He said whomever paid for the ad would have the right to use it at that point.
When asked about the appearance of a state-made video that includes the governor and two state employees appearing in a political ad, he said the video compilation was not made for political purposes.
“I see that point, but the video was made to document the then-current posture of the administration, in terms of what that political issue is,” he said.
Abraham said he asked an attorney with the state Ethics Commission for an informal opinion, and that attorney agreed with him. Rebecca Stepto, executive director of the Ethics Commission, declined to comment.
Despite being technically nonpartisan candidates, Armstead and Jenkins both served as elected Republicans before Justice appointed them to the Supreme Court.
The funding for West Virginians for Fair Courts comes from two sources, totaling $100,000: West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and the American Tort Reform Association donated $50,000 each.
Reach Jake Zuckerman at email@example.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.
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