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Tennant’s office wrong

It has been a strange year in politics. But it has not been as weird as a visit to West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s website might lead you to believe.

Political Action Committees and others involved in independent political expenditures are required to file reports with the secretary of state. Among other things, they show how much the groups spend and what races they are attempting to influence. Tennant’s office posts the reports on its website.

According to the site, Tennant herself benefited from $39,500 in spending meant to support her — by the Republican State Leadership Committee Inc.

In her dreams. Tennant is a Democrat.

But so are some other candidates the secretary of state’s website shows as having been supported by the Republicans. What gives?

Apparently someone who entered the website information at the secretary of state’s office was just guessing (though someone who thinks Republicans spend money to re-elect Democrats probably ought not to be working in the office of the state’s chief election officer).

Reports submitted by the PACS are required by law to specify the names of candidates whose races are being influenced. The reports also are required to specify whether the expenditures listed were intended to support or oppose the candidates. The RSLC report specified Tennant, but did not identify whether she was being supported or opposed.

Neither did reports submitted earlier this year by the West Virginia AFL-CIO, which supports Democrats. One report from that organization cited Darrell McGraw, who was defeated in an attempt to be elected to the state Supreme Court. Whether the AFL-CIO was supporting or opposing him was not specified.

Now, this is a problem, and here’s why:

Tennant is the state’s chief election officer. Her office is supposed to require that political candidates and independent groups supporting or opposing them obey the law.

In this case, by not requiring some of the independent groups to do that, the secretary of state’s office did not enforce the law.

Here’s what is more troubling: This isn’t the first time. Tennant’s office made precisely the same mistake a few years ago — and yours truly reported the error then. It was an oversight, I was told. Corrections would be made. Independent groups would be contacted and told they had to indicate whether they were supporting or opposing candidates listed on the forms submitted to the secretary of state’s office.

One might suppose something that important would stick with Tennant and her staff. Apparently not, to judge by the fact the same oversight is occurring now.

Some of the independent groups spending money this year have complied with the requirement. Officials at one of the organizations apparently became aware of it after typing their forms. In several cases, someone hand wrote notations candidates were being supported or opposed on the forms.

It isn’t a partisan thing. Again, my spot check disclosed one organization supporting Republicans and another favoring Democrats submitted incomplete forms.

Why were those forms, in clear violation of the law, accepted by Tennant’s office?

More troubling, what other mistakes is the state’s chief election officer making in enforcing the law?

We know of at least one: Two years ago, while running for the U.S. Senate, Tennant led a group of supporters to the Kanawha County courthouse. There, within feet of where early voting was being conducted, she delivered a campaign speech.

State law prohibits any political campaigning on courthouse property during the early voting period.

With allegations being made that elections are “rigged” throughout the country, it is especially important that people like Tennant ensure all the “i’s” are dotted and the “t’s” are crossed.

Clearly, she isn’t doing that.

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Mike Myer is the executive editor at the Wheeling Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register. Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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