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Candidates for governor file finance reports

CHARLESTON — The May 2020 primary for governor of West Virginia is 10 months away and pre-candidates are working hard to raise funds for the primary contests.

All active candidate committees and pre-candidates for the 2020 elections were required to file second quarter campaign finance reports.

There are 13 listed pre-candidates for governor, not including Democratic candidate for governor Stephen Smith who filed as “undeclared” on the secretary of state’s online Campaign Finance Reporting System.

Filing for pre-candidacy allows potential candidates for office to test the waters and start fundraising efforts prior to the candidate filing period that starts Jan. 13 for the primary election filing period.

Gov. Jim Justice reported $57,650 in donations during the second quarter period covering March 30 and June 30, $176,079 in total expenditures, and $13,071 in cash on hand.

The entire $57,650 in donations came from a June 20 fundraiser at the Charleston Marriott Town Center on West Virginia Day featuring Donald Trump Jr. The fundraiser included West Virginia’s Republican congressional delegation and House Speaker and Clay county native Roger Hanshaw as special guests, but specifically excluded Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, after Justice and Carmichael had a public spat over the Senate’s education reform bill.

“The governor kicked off the fundraising season with a great event with Donald Trump Jr. and looks forward to continuing this momentum in (the third quarter),” said Mike Lukach, campaign manager for Justice.

Major donors (those donating more than $250) at the Justice fundraiser included former West Virginia University football head coach Don Nehlen, Justice special counsel Brian Abraham, Tourism Division Director Chelsea Ruby, West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney and Business and Industry Council Chairman Chris Hamilton.

Justice, a billionaire according to USA Today, loaned his campaign $131,500 and has $19,123 in unpaid bills.

The next major Republican candidate for governor, millionaire businessman and former state Commerce Department secretary Woody Thrasher, raised $36,385 during the quarter. He spent $356,757, leaving him with $53,402 in cash on hand.

Major donors include several employees of the Thrasher Group – the engineering and construction company founded by Thrasher and his father. Another major donor included former state Republican Party chairman Douglas McKinney.

Thrasher reported $373,744 in loans to his campaign. Major expenses included thousands of dollars to Mentzer Media in Maryland for advertising for several radio and TV ad buys across the state over the last two months.

“I say it all the time, but I built my company by driving 58,000 miles every year, visiting every little community in West Virginia, and I’m ready to do it again to earn the Republican nomination for governor,” Thrasher said in a statement. “I’m making substantial investments in this campaign – my time and my money.

Other vendors include several payments to Golden Horseshoe Strategies, a Huntington-based consulting firm ran by former state Republican Party chairman Conrad Lucas; and $2,000 to Ben Queen Photography, owned by Delegate. Ben Queen, R-Harrison.

“I’ve had success in business by asking questions and listening to the experts who are a whole lot smarter than I am, and that’s what I’m doing with this campaign, too,” Thrasher said. “I know I’m new to politics, so I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is to prove that I’m a worthy candidate, and I’m just getting started.”

Mike Folk, a former Berkeley County delegate and Republican candidate for state Senate, raised $16,035 during the quarter, with $6,815 in expenditures and $16,362 in cash on hand. Most of Folk’s donations have come from small donors, donating $250 or less. Folk’s replacement in the House of Delegates — Delegate Thomas Bibby, R-Berkeley — was a major donor to his campaign. Folk loaned his campaign $1,100.

On the Democrat pre-candidate side, Stephen Smith, the former leader of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, raised more than Justice, Thrasher, and Folk did combined.

Smith raised $148,290 in campaign donations during the quarter: $27,716 more than the three major Republican pre-candidates combined. The Smith campaign spent $86,924 and has $121,611 in cash on hand.

Much like the annual report Smith filed, his second quarter report included numerous small-dollar donations. His campaign filing included 34 pages listing 1,041 small-dollar donors.

“We’re not running a run-of-the-mill campaign. We’re building a movement that can take on the good old boys and win,” said Johnna Bailey, Smith’s campaign treasurer. “The thing we’re most proud of is just how many people are a part of this effort. To get a government of the people, we need a government funded by the people.”

Smith also listed 15 fundraising events across the state, but events in California, Chicago, Columbus, Washington, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Brooklyn.

“In this campaign we don’t take corporate cash,” Smith said in a statement. “Too many politicians in West Virginia don’t have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after their names, they have dollar signs. It’s not left versus right in West Virginia, it’s the good old boys versus everybody else.”

Major donors include: Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy; Justin McElroy of the popular podcast “My Brother, My Brother and Me”; and George Carenbauer, former chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Democratic candidate Jody Murphy, a former reporter for The Parkersburg News and Sentinel and Pleasants County economic development leader, only raised $75 during the quarter with no expenditures, leaving him with a deficit of $252. Erika Kolenich, a Libertarian Party candidate for governor, raised $990, spent $28, and had $922 in cash on hand.