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2018 Midterms

Healthy Debate: Ohio Valley Health Concerns Driving Competitive Midterm Races

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Buttons at a recent conference held by the advocacy group Kentucky Voices For Health. Photo: Mary Meehan/Ohio Valley ReSource

The political ads in the Ohio Valley are playing on what seems like a constant loop. That’s not unusual for election season. But what is unusual this year is how many ads focus on health care. Consider this one from Kentucky Republican Andy Barr, who’s facing a tough challenge in the 6th Congressional District from Democrat Amy McGrath.

McGrath supports maintaining the Affordable Care Act and its essential benefits with some tweaks. Barr’s campaign ads proclaim her a radical socialist whose plan “doubles your federal taxes and ends Medicare as we know it.” It is complete, of course, with dramatic background music.

Not to be outdone, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin actually uses a gun in his targeted rebuke of his Republican opponent, Patrick Morrisey, who has promised to repeal Obamacare.

“He’s just dead wrong. It just ain’t going to happen,” Manchin says in the ad. Then there is the ringing sound of a shot fired.

Yes, Manchin fires a shotgun into a piece of paper to prove his point. Some political junkies may remember that he did essentially the same thing in 2012 when he was taking aim at “cap and trade.”

The midterm story on health care is much the same in Ohio where incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is facing tough-talking, motorcycle-riding Republican Jim Renacci, who is sometimes referred to in the press as a “mini-Trump.”

But while the campaigns simplify and weaponize health care, the future of the Affordable Care Act is a pivotal issue in midterm races across the Ohio Valley with major implications for millions of residents. The Act’s expansion of Medicaid dramatically increased access to health care in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, and the Act protected some three million people in the region with pre-existing health conditions. The future of those parts of the Act may now be determined by the outcome of the Nov. 6 election.

Important Details

Simon Haeder is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science in the John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy & Politics at West Virginia University. He said the healthcare debate actually centers on the wonky intersection of something called the individual mandate and its impact on people with pre-existing conditions.

“Before the Affordable Care Act everybody wanting to get insurance in the private market had to go through a medical screening and insurers were very eager to screen out individuals who could cost them a lot of money,” he said.

Those individuals were determined to have pre-existing conditions. That term had a broad scope that could include everyone from those treated for acne to victims of domestic violence who often have high medical bills. Haeder said the ACA declared that people with pre-existing conditions couldn’t be denied insurance and added another critical provision.

Credit:Alexandra Kanik/Ohio Valley ReSource

“It also required that every American get insurance, and that was called the individual mandate,” he said.

With the individual mandate people who didn’t get insurance faced a financial penalty. Those healthy people who don’t need a lot of care paying into the system are crucial to making the overall ACA math work. Now Republicans in Congress have eliminated that penalty. Haeder said that without facing a penalty more people will simply not get insurance

Further, 20 state Attorneys General have used that as an argument in a lawsuit to repeal the ACA through the courts. Morrisey, Manchin’s Republican opponent, is among that group.

The lawsuit says that without the money from the individual mandate and the premium payments from healthy folks, there is not enough money to pay for the care of all those people with pre-existing conditions.

Haeder said the lawsuit claims “we should throw the entire Affordable Care Act out because the individual parts cannot stand on their own. That threatens those individual marketplace components for the ACA including protections for pre-existing conditions.”

If the ACA is gutted, Haeder said people with pre-existing conditions could lose their coverage or be required to pay expensive premiums.

Pivotal Issue

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation if those protections against pre-existing conditions were eliminated that would leave roughly a third of non-elderly adults in the Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia without affordable health care. That’s about 881,000 in Kentucky, 1.2 million in Ohio and 392,000 in West Virginia.

And Haeder said the numbers could be even higher.

Using insurance guidelines that defined what were considered pre-existing conditions before the ACA, Haeder found that the impact could be even greater.

By considering health problems that resulted in an automatic denial of insurance, exclusion of the condition being covered by insurance, or higher premiums, he estimated the number of people with pre-existing conditions in West Virginia to be as high as 720,000.

Credit:Alexandra Kanik/Ohio Valley ReSource

The high proportion of people with pre-existing conditions is related to the generally poor health outcomes in the region when compared to the rest of the country. For example, not only do Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia have higher rates of deaths due to cancer, those death rates have remained stubbornly high while the rest of the country has seen general improvement.

According to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, while national cancer death rates dropped by more than 20 percent between 1980 and 2014, Kentucky saw less than a 5 percent decrease; West Virginia saw less than a 4 percent decrease. Ohio’s decrease in cancer deaths is closer to the national average, but still lagging at 16 percent.

Midterms and Medicaid

At the recent annual meeting of the health advocacy nonprofit Kentucky Voices For Health, “Let’s Talk About Medicaid” was the message printed on dozens of campaign buttons strewn across a registration table. A few feet away inside the meeting room a slide slowly dissolved on two large screens between these messages: “Vote Like Your Healthcare Depends On It” and “Vote Like Your Life Depends On It.”

Dustin Pugel of Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. Photo: Mary Meehan/Ohio Valley ReSource

Dustin Pugel, a policy analyst at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, a left-leaning research center, spoke to the group gathered in Lexington about efforts to upend the ACA and also about the potential impact of the midterms on Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid has long been the main way many people with certain pre-existing conditions could get coverage. The ACA also allowed states to expand the number of people who could qualify for Medicaid.

There are ongoing efforts to attempt to change Medicaid expansion and allow insurance companies again to deny service to those with pre-existing conditions.

“There are a lot of ways that 2017 was just one attack after another against folks who have been sick in the past, women of childbearing age, or anybody who might be predisposed to different conditions,” he said.

And he said Republicans are intent on continuing their efforts.

“We’ve already heard lawmakers in D.C. say we are going to take another crack at this,” he said.

Pugel said consumers are concerned. Kentucky has submitted a plan, called a waiver, to the federal government to change its current Medicaid program. As part of the waiver process, the public can comment on the proposed changes. Pugel said of the 9,500 comments, about 8,500 did not support the proposed changes. Those changes include a work requirement that health advocates fear will disqualify many who gained insurance when Medicaid was expanded.

Changing Politics

Demonstrators targeting Sen. Mitch McConnell. Photo: Mary Meehan/Ohio Valley ReSource

Not so long ago, Democrats were less eager to talk about the ACA or “Obamacare.” Al Cross, who directs the Institute for Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky, says polls across the country show retaining health care is a top concern for voters. That puts Republicans who have long touted repeal in a bind.

“The fact that across the county there are more health care ads from Democrats than from Republicans indicates that Obamacare issue has finally turned against the ruling party.”

Something else is happening, he said.

“I think it is safe to say that women will not under-vote in this election the way they usually do in midterms,” he said. Between the #MeToo movement, the outrage of teachers, and the motivation for women candidates such as Amy McGrath, Cross said, “this election could see a bigger impact from the women’s vote than any election since 1960, when women probably elected John F. Kennedy.”

And women frequently make most of a family’s health care decisions.

Alexandra Kanik contributed to this report.

This story was originally published by the Ohio Valley ReSource.

2018 Midterms

Democratic Gains in Midterms were Largest in Rural Areas

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Photo: Win McNamee

Democratic Senate candidates cut the party’s rural deficit compared to the presidential vote in 2016. But Republicans still outperformed Democrats by 22 points in 28 states we studied.

Republicans gained seats in the U.S. Senate in the last election, but it’s Democrats who gained in popularity among rural voters.

The Daily Yonder looked at the currently available Senate vote and compared those figures to the presidential election of 2016. When we grouped counties by metropolitan categories, we found that Democrats improved their performance across the board from 2016 and that the biggest gains came in the more rural counties.

Comparing presidential elections to midterm elections is a bit of an apples-to-oranges exercise. But that doesn’t keep analysts from digging in. So, in the interest of keeping rural in the conversation, let’s take a look at rural voter preferences this year compared to 2016.

Note: The Senate election data we are using is from Dave Leip’s election atlas. We omitted California because there was no Republican on the ballot. That left 28 races for which data was available. There’s a list at the bottom of the article. We counted the votes for Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, who is an independent, in the Democratic column.

First, let’s look at the raw vote.

Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Photo: Daily Yonder

Midterm elections always attract fewer voters than presidential elections. So we expect the raw vote total to decline. But in rural counties, the raw number of voters who selected the Democratic candidate actually increased from 2016 to 2018. Democratic Senate candidates in the most rural counties got 11% more votes this year than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. That’s despite the fact that 12 million fewer people voted in those states overall.

Meanwhile, the raw number of votes for Republican Senate candidates declined from Donald Trump’s raw vote total in 2016 in every category of county – from the smallest rural areas to the largest metropolitan ones. The declines were more pronounced in small metropolitan areas (metros with fewer than 250,000 residents) and rural counties.

The Democratic gains are also striking when we look at the proportion (or percentage) of the two-party vote the candidates received.

Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Photo: Daily Yonder

Democratic Senate candidates in 2018 did better than Clinton in the two-party percentage vote in every category of county (from urban centers to rural areas). Again, the Democratic gains were biggest in rural counties. Democrats improved their performance by 9 percentage points in the most rural counties. (As a percentage basis [vs. a percentage point basis], that’s a whopping 30% increase.)

The vote in these Senate races is an interesting midterm snapshot of rural voter opinion. It’s not determinative for 2020, however. Even though Democrats substantially improved their performance with rural voters in these states this year, they still lost the popular vote in rural counties. Democrats trimmed the Republican margin of victory in the states we examined from 40 points to 22. If the patterns we’ve seen in elections in this century hold, Democrats will have to do better than that to win the White House in 2020.

States included in this analysis are the following: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

This story was originally published by the Daily Yonder.

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2018 Midterms

Outside Groups Spent Big in West Virginia in 2018, But Public Filings Don’t Show the Full Picture

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A composite image of various digital ads that ran in the lead-up to the 2018 general election.

When you opened your mailbox, watched television or listened to commercial radio in the lead-up to the election, you and other would-be voters were likely bombarded by political advertisements. Like in elections past, some of those materials were paid for by candidate committees and are easily identified as such. But the sources of the materials from other groups — known as independent expenditures and not authorized by a candidate or a candidate committee — are often more difficult to discern.

Advocates for campaign finance reform say current state law falls short in enabling the public to track who is funding some of these groups in a centralized and uniform manner.

“We have all of these groups that are reporting to the Secretary of State’s office. But I think it is important to note to that these reports don’t tell us a whole lot as to who is behind these groups. Some of these groups don’t disclose who is making contributions and those who do use shell corporations or other means to keep things in the dark,” said Julie Archer of West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections.

Tracking state-level spending by federally registered groups can be difficult. Some of these groups use loopholes in West Virginia’s campaign financing laws to avoid disclosing donors and expenditures to the Secretary of State’s office. In addition, federal campaign finance law does not require these groups to disclose details regarding the candidates or races they targeted in state-level races.

During the 2018 general election cycle, independent expenditure political action committees registered in West Virginia spent more than $5.4 million to meddle in House of Delegates, Senate and Supreme Court races. That figure only represents expenditures filed with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.

Mountain State Values, WV Patriots for Liberty Pushed for Democrats with Union Backing

Union-backed, pro-Democrat groups represent a significant chunk of independent expenditures this election. Mountain State Values focused mostly on House of Delegates races, while WV Patriots for Liberty exclusively targeted state Senate races.

Mountain State Values received more than $1.8 million in total contributions for the 2018 midterms. These donations came mostly from labor-backed political action committees and organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers’ Solidarity fund, the West Virginia state Building & Construction Trades Council, the Mid-Atlantic Laborers Political Education Fund, the West Virginia AFL-CIO, and the AFT-West Virginia Committee on Political Education.

Mountain State Values targeted 18 of the 67 districts in the House of Delegates and on one race in the state Senate — District 17 — by spending money opposing incumbent Tom Takubo and supporting Terrell Ellis. Takubo won the race by more than 4 percentage points.

An ad from Mountain State Values supporting House of Delegates 36th District Democratic candidates Amanda-Estep Burton, Del. Andrew Robinson and Del. Larry Rowe. They all won election in the three-member district.

WV Patriots for Liberty took a similar tactic in fundraising but spent funds differently. The group raised more than $1 million from trade unions, including the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 132, the Engineers Political Education Committee and the West Virginia State Building & Construction Trades Council.

Every bit of $832,561.38 spent by WV Patriots for Liberty went to oppose Republicans running for the state Senate in five districts — Ryan Ferns (District 1), Eric Tarr (District 4), Mark Maynard (District 6) Ed Gaunch (District 8) and Mike Oliverio (District 13).

Ferns, Gauch and Oliverio were defeated; Maynard and Tarr won their races.

Neither group responded to requests for comment about their respective donors and spending.

Former Gubernatorial Hopeful Goodwin Targets House, Senate Races with Re Set West Virginia

Former U.S. Attorney and one-time gubernatorial hopeful Booth Goodwin is listed as director of Re Set West Virginia. Filings by the group list the National Education Association, West Virginia Strong, Inc. and Expanding West Virginia Opportunities as major donors.

The organization focused on the state Senate’s 10th and 17th districts and six races in the House of Delegates — districts 12, 16, 21, 63, 65 and 67. In total, Re Set West Virginia spent $178,337.19 supporting Democrats and opposing Republicans.

Goodwin said his motivation to start the group was to make a push for Democrat candidates from within the state. He also deemed the efforts successful.

“Nearly half of the candidates that Re Set West Virginia endorsed ended up winning — even in some really tough races. We plan to do even better in 2020 in order to put the state’s politics back in the hands of leaders who are not beholden to extreme and out-of-state interests,” Goodwin said.

1863 PAC, Shale Energy Alliance Boosted Republicans, Haven’t Disclosed Donors

Two pro-Republican organizations delved into the 2018 general election but have yet to fully disclose from where their donations came. As a result, they have drawn attention from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office for those practices.

1863 PAC — which initially sprung up to support Del. Roger Hanshaw’s bid to become House Speaker — spent $281,182.33 in support of Republican House of Delegates candidates and opposed Democratic rivals. However, the group has not listed its donors on filings with the Secretary of State’s office.

Luke Thompson, a New York-based political consultant who serves as executive director of 1863 PAC said the group is in compliance with state campaign finance law.

“1863 PAC received several contributions from several hundred organizations and individuals — from numerous sectors of West Virginia’s economy — who agreed with our mission of protecting the Republican majority in the House of Delegates and protecting the speakership of Roger Hanshaw,” Thompson said.

“No contributions were above six-figures and a majority of contributions were in the three-figure range,” he added.

But public filings don’t specify where that money came from. Less than two weeks before the election the Charleston Gazette Mail reported that the Secretary of State’s office issued a cease and desist order to 1863 PAC, citing no registration as a state or federal political action committee.

Many questions about the group’s origins and efforts have centered around Riley Moore, a Republican delegate from the 67th House District who was ultimately defeated in the 2018 midterms by Democrat John Doyle.

Thompson said the idea for the group came from Moore and Hanshaw. In an interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Moore disputed that characterization, saying the organization’s board created the group and dictated its focus. Hanshaw said he was told of the 1863 PAC’s establishment by Moore and said he had no involvement.

Thompson also said he and Moore coordinated on fundraising efforts, which Moore confirmed.

“I raised money for almost for every Republican that was running this election cycle,” Moore said, “and 1863 was certainly one of those entities supporting Republican candidates. As we’ve seen, there are fewer groups raising money for Republicans as compared to those who support Democrats. As such, I helped raise money for 1863.”

Moore has weaved back and forth on explaining his involvement, affiliation or knowledge of anyone at 1863 PAC. First, he told WVMetroNews he had personal relationships with those involved with the group. Later, the Gazette-Mail reportedMoore denied affiliation with 1863 PAC and declined further comment.

“I certainly encouraged somebody like Luke to get involved in West Virginia. He’s been involved in Republican politics throughout the country for a long time,” Moore told West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Hanshaw recently became House Speaker, putting Moore in line to take over as majority leader at the beginning of the 2019 legislative session. Moore and Thompson both say Moore was not involved in spending decisions made by 1863 PAC, which is in compliance with the state’s campaign finance laws.

“Some of that proof is in the pudding. Riley and [Jill] Upson lost,” said Thompson, noting no specific focus on helping Moore or Hanshaw in their respective races. “We spent for almost every Republican candidate in House races.”

Thompson pointed out that pro-Democratic independent expenditures far outspent those who aimed to help Republicans and, therefore, deemed his group’s efforts successful. He cited losses by Democratic incumbents such as Scott Brewer, Richard Iaquinta, Dana Lynch and Ricky Moye.

“We counterpunched in a year we were supposed to be on defense and the results speak for themselves,” Thompson said.

An ad from 1863 PAC in support of Del. Riley Moore. Moore, who was in line to become the next majority leader, lost to Democrat John Doyle in the 2018 general election.

Thompson noted that 1863 PAC used a targeted texting campaign — known as peer-to-peer or P2P — as part of its strategy. That tactic drew a lawsuit from Jefferson County resident Mariah Norton, who says she was spammed by text messages in support of Moore. Norton and her attorney — former Democratic House of Delegates member Stephen Skinner — say those texts were in violation of Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

The Secretary of State’s office also cited another organization for election engineering activity during this past election cycle: Shale Energy Alliance. The group was also issued a cease and desist order for not registering as a state or federal political action committee.

Republican Del. John Kelly filed a complaint against Shale Energy Alliance, which prompted the cease and desist. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Kelley said the group is funded by natural gas company EQT Corp. and that they targeted him in the May primary for not running legislation the company was supporting. Kelly is the vice chairman of the House Energy Committee.

Shale Energy Alliance spent $69,759.25 supporting Republicans in a handful of races between the House and Senate in the general election.

Representatives of Shale Energy Alliance could not be reached for comment.

West Virginia’s Future PAC Aimed to Keep GOP Majority in State Senate

Republican state Senate hopefuls — and even some off-ballot incumbents — got help this election cycle from a independent expenditure known as West Virginia’s Future PAC. Public filings show the group supported GOP candidates and opposed Democratic rivals.

Notable donors to West Virginia’s Future PAC leading up to the 2018 midterms include Republican Gov. Jim Justice and Cary Communications, a company owned by media mogul and Justice senior advisor Bray Cary. Each contributed $50,000 to the committee.

The Coalition for a Stronger West Virginia gave the group $75,000. The 501(c)(4)’s website states they advocate “much-needed pro-jobs policy improvements that simplify the tax code, reduce the tax burden, balance the state’s budget, end lawsuit abuse, promote a skilled workforce, and rein in regulatory costs.”

Coal company Murray Energy contributed $72,000 and donations from beer distribution companies around the state totaled more than $10,000.

According to expenditures filed with the Secretary of State’s office, West Virginia’s Future PAC offered support to Republican Senate candidates Ryan Ferns (District 1), Eric Tarr (District 4), Ed Gaunch (District 8) and Tom Takubo (District 17).

The committee also spent money to oppose Democrats in those same races, including William Ihlenfeld (District 1), Brian Prim (District 4), Richard Lindsey (District 8), and Terrell Ellis (District 17). They also spent money to oppose Bob Beach (District 13), John Unger (District 16).

Republicans will still hold a majority in the Senate — but based on results in races that West Virginia’s Future PAC targeted and tried to influence, the only Republican winners were Tarr and Takubo.

An attorney representing West Virginia’s Future PAC did not respond to a request for an interview.

National Republican Group Delves into a Handful of Statehouse Races

The Republican State Leadership Committee — a federal 527-organization with no cap on donations or expenditures — spent money on candidates in 12 House of Delegates districts and one contest in the state Senate.

Of the $45 million the group says they spent in the 2018 general election, $150,000 was dedicated to West Virginia statehouse races. RSLC president Matt Walter said that the group targeted those contests in a calculated manner.

“The first thing we do is determine what the macro environment looks like — what the likelihood of races changing and what those target districts are — so narrowing down to where the competitive races are going to be. And then sharing information with the voters of West Virginia to help them understand what the candidate stands for, and how they’ll govern once they get into the state Capitol,” Walter said.

“Depending upon the region of the state — and the composition of the district —  we are picking the most convenient and appropriate communications method to share that information with voters,” he added.

Ultimately, the RSLC appears to have been successful in a majority of its efforts.

Supreme Court Special Elections Also See Big Spending from RSLC, Other Groups

While the RSLC focused on a small number of legislative races, the bulk of the group’s spending was directed toward electing prominent Republicans to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals — although seats on the state’s high court have been non-partisan since 2016.

The committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative spent a total of $1,749,319.98 between former West Virginia House Speaker Tim Armstead and former Congressman Evan Jenkins in their respective bids for a seat on the court. According to the Secretary of State’s website, both remain registered Republicans.

Both candidates won their respective races, with Jenkins handedly winning Division 2.

The RSLC’s spending on the state Supreme Court special elections — which was more than 10 times what they spent on legislative races — was a matter of the breadth of voters they wanted to reach, Walter said.

“When you’re talking about two statewide races with multiple candidates within each of the divisions — and a state with very expensive media costs at a statewide level, given obviously the competitive U.S. Senate race and and all the activity you had during this election — it’s just more expensive to run those statewide races,” Walter explained.

West Virginians for Fair Courts was another group that got involved in the two state Supreme Court races. The group — funded in part by West Virginia Citizens against Lawsuit Abuse and the American Tort Reform Association — supported Armstead, Jenkins and “several candidates.” The group spent $334,702.11 in total. Of that figure, $250,640.11 was spent specifically on Armstead or Jenkins.

Of those expenditures, West Virginians for Fair Courts paid television stations WVVA, WTOV, and WDTV to air a 30-minute program featuring Gov. Jim Justice and his senior advisor Bray Cary. The program, titled Perfect Storm, showed Justice and Cary discussing the effectiveness of Republican policies and boosted Armstead and Jenkins. The video was promoted by and West Virginia Republican Party and was also shared on their Facebook page.

Also notable in the races for Supreme Court, Berkeley County resident William Stubblefield spent $6,639.63 in support of Division 1 candidate Chris Wilkes.

Other Groups Not Listed on the Secretary of State’s Campaign Finance Reporting System

Independent expenditures mentioned thus far in this report show the activity of groups filing with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, but there are other groups trying to sway statehouse races that may or may not be registered with the Federal Elections Commission. As a result, no centralized agency can track these disclosures in any uniform way.

For example, the Working Families Party noted in a news release following the 2018 general election that they spent $50,000 supporting Democratic candidates in four West Virginia Senate races and more than two dozen in the House of Delegates.

The director of the West Virginia independent expenditure campaign, Andrew Cockburn, said election officials told him not to bother filing disclosures with the state.

“I knew we had to report to the FEC and [the West Virginia Secretary of State] told me that since I was working with a federal PAC, basically, to get lost. They said they had lots of things to do, and they didn’t need some extra paperwork that was not required under state law,” Cockburn said.

The group is registered as a political committee with the Federal Election Commission and, therefore, is not obligated to detail its financials with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.

Another group known to have made independent expenditures in West Virginia statehouse races is Grow WV, Inc, another political committee registered with the Federal Election Commission.

Grow WV Inc. also made independent expenditures in West Virginia statehouse races in 2018, but public filings with the Federal Election Commission from the group do not detail the candidates they targeted. A 2014 investigation by the Sunlight Foundation found that officers with the group also held executive committee positions with the West Virginia Republican Party.

Officials with Grow WV could not be reached for comment.

Election Officials, Campaign Finance Reform Advocates Weigh In

Pushing for more transparency in donor and expenditure disclosures would require action from the Legislature.

Chuck Flannery, the deputy Secretary of State and the office’s general counsel, acknowledged loopholes in state law that prevent independent expenditure disclosures in state-level races from being able to be compiled in a centralized and uniform system.

“The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office stands prepared to assist the Legislature in addressing campaign finance laws to get disclosure standards uniform for independent expenditures and advocate for the electronic filing of the reports to allow a quicker and more transparent access to the information to the public,” Flannery said.

Julie Archer of West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections said closing loopholes in state campaign finance law are among the group’s priorities.

“We have been and we will continue to push for increased disclosure and transparency in who is spending money in our elections,” she said.

The Legislature’s next regular session — where many lawmakers who benefited from independent expenditures now have the ability to push for campaign financing reforms — begins Jan. 9.

This story was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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2018 Midterms

‘D’ Is for Disadvantage: Democrats have an Identity Problem in Rural America

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Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., lost his re-election contest against Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a race that was so close, a number of ballots had to be recounted by hand. In this file photo, Nelson is joined by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Democrats are losing rural votes not because of what they propose but because rural voters identify more with the Republican Party. “Democratic” ballot initiatives do well in rural, but Democratic candidates don’t.

In politics these days, it’s not as much what is said as who says it.

The reports on the November 6 election have been largely about the growing political divide between rural and urban. Urban voters are getting more Democratic and rural voters more Republican.

We’ll see how much that actually came to pass as voting results are made final. What we can see now, however, is that Democratic candidates are paying an “identity penalty” in rural counties — they are losing votes not because of what they propose but because of the “D” that sits beside their name on the ballot.

In state after state, rural voters both rejected Democratic candidates by wide margins, but, on the same ballot, voted for very “Democratic” (if not downright liberal) positions in nonpartisan propositions and amendments.

Consider what happened in Florida. There, Democrat Bill Nelson, the incumbent U.S. senator, received just 33 percent of the votes out of the state’s rural counties.

However, these same voters were asked to vote on Amendment 4 to the state constitution. The measure would restore voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their sentences. (The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or felony sex crimes.) As many as 1.2 million Floridians who had served their time for a felony had been barred from voting – and that number was disproportionately African American.

A majority of those who had lost this right of citizenship were registered Democrats, according to a study conduced by the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. Republicans opposed Amendment 4. Gov. Rick Scott spoke against it and so did the Republican candidate for governor, Ron DeSantis. Democrats and the ACLU favored Amendment 4.

Naturally, given the “divide,” we’d expect rural voters to vote against Democrats, against the ACLU and against something that would favor African Americans. They would follow their party. Right?

The difference in Florida in rural votes for a progressive position (favored by Democrats) and a real live Democrat is just a shade over 20 percentage points. That’s what we’re calling the “identity penalty” – the difference between who makes a proposal and the proposal itself.

Now, the vote in rural Florida for Amendment 4 was still lower than the state average by just under 10 percentage points. Rural areas may be more conservative than urban areas. But the difference is within shouting distance.

In West Virginia, rural voters were slightly more likely to oppose a state constitutional amendment with language that opposes abortion rights. (For definitions of the county categories, see the list above.)

Meanwhile, the difference in party voting between rural Florida and the cities is more than 20 percentage points. Just over 33 percent of rural Floridians voted Democratic in the Senate race, compared to about 55 percent in the biggest cities.

Party is largely about identification these days, not policy. Columbia political scientist Donald Green has described the choice of political party as more like being a sports fan than a policy wonk.

Imagine walking down a hall of a large building, Green wrote, describing how people join political parties. There are gatherings happening in two separate rooms. You can look through a door and see the people in each group. You size them up, seeing what kind of clothes they wear and imagining whether they would be the kind of folks you’d want to spend time with or have your children visit. You make a judgment, pick a room and go in. You join a team.

That’s how political parties are chosen. It’s about identification and social solidarity, not issues. And that identity is strong and divided by geography. Rural residents went in one door and urban dwellers went in the other.

What we saw in Tuesday’s election, however, is that when policy is divorced from party, people can make different decisions. And it wasn’t just in Florida.

Claire McCaskill, Democratic Senate candidate (blue column), lost a majority of voters outside the most urbanized counties of the state’s largest metropolitan areas. Ballot initiatives for raising the minimum wage (green column) and reforming elections (red column) passed with a majority of voters across the state. (For definitions of the county categories, see the list above.)

In Missouri, only 27 percent of rural residents voted for incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. (See Richard Oswald’s column.) But 53 percent of rural voters favored raising the minimum wage, limiting gerrymandering of legislative districts and putting a lid on lobbyists – all normally Democratic positions.

In Utah, 27 percent of rural residents voted for Democrat Jenny Wilson against Republican Mitt Romney for an open U.S. Senate seat. But 50 percent of rural Utah voted in favor of full Medicaid expansion, which will be paid for in part with a slight rise in the sales tax.

The Republican Utah legislature had passed a limited expansion of Medicaid. But Utah voters wanted a full expansion – which is, of course, a key component of the health care reforms passed under President Barack Obama, a.k.a. Obamacare.

Utah voters outside the urban core of major metro counties preferred the Democratic policy (expanding Medicaid — red column) to the Democratic Senate candidate (blue column). (For definitions of the county categories, see the list above.)

Medicaid expansion also passed in Nebraska and Idaho, two reliably Republican states.

There are perhaps two lessons from these results. The first, says ABC television analyst and former George W. Bush White House adviser Matt Dowd, is that so-called progressives in some states might do better by pushing referenda and amendments rather than Democratic candidates.  “Instead of trying to accomplish policy through partisan legislature,” Dowd wrote in an email, “go directly to ballot initiatives where possible.” (Dowd’s take on this phenomenon is here.)

Second, identity is not something that people easily give up. (Have you ever convinced a sports fan to change his or her allegiance?) And so the “identity penalty” Democrats pay in heavily Republican areas might be too great to overcome. Candidates might do better if they run as independents rather than as Democrats in particularly “red” states.

This would only work, Dowd says, if Democrats “step down” and refuse to offer a candidate and split the vote. Then voters will confront the issues and the “identity penalty” might not be as harsh.

The results from last week’s election would say that strategy might work.

Bill Bishop is a contributing editor and co-founder of the Daily Yonder.

This story was originally published by the Daily Yonder.

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