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State says Mingo County PAC didn’t violate law

September 11, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A Mingo County political action committee’s acceptance of improper contributions didn’t violate any state law, an attorney with the Secretary of State’s office said.


Attorney Tim Leach said in a letter to Team Mingo 2012 that state law doesn’t prohibit PACs from receiving money that may have been improperly donated. There are exceptions but none apply to Team Mingo 2012.


The Charleston Daily Mail reported the findings Monday. The newspaper says Mingo County Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith, the PAC’s treasurer, provided it with a copy of Leach’s letter but declined comment.


Secretary of State spokesman Jake Glance told the newspaper earlier this year that campaigns of active candidates can’t make donations to unaffiliated PACs such as Team Mingo 2012.


Team Mingo 2012 received $3,700 in contributions from the campaigns of Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick, state Sen. Art Kirkendoll, state Treasurer John Perdue and former Sen. Mark Wills. The PAC returned the money to the Democrats’ campaigns in August after learning that they were improper.


The Secretary of State’s office investigated the contributions after receiving a complaint from Republican activist Rob Cornelius. Leach said in his letter that the complaint has been dismissed.


Cornelius said that he was disappointed that there was no recourse under state law concerning the PAC’s actions.


“The good news is that the folks at the Federal Election Commission haven’t looked at it this yet, and have a little better idea of what happens when people at a state PAC spend unreported funds on a federal election,” Cornelius told the newspaper.


Kirkendoll said his campaign did not know the contribution was prohibited when it was made.


“We thought it was perfectly fine to do it or else I never would have done it,” he told the newspaper.


He said the Secretary of State’s office had cleared him of any wrongdoing.


Leach said in his letter that the office is troubled that the receipt of a prohibited contribution is not addressed by state law or regulations. He commended the PAC for voluntarily refunding the donations.


“Federal regulation apparently covers this and requires repayment once the prohibited status is brought to the attention of the recipient,” he wrote.


Leach said the Secretary of State’s office plans to study the federal model. The Legislature would have to amend the law to add any circumstances where a PAC could not receive money.


The existing law prohibits PACs’ receipt of anonymous donations, cash donations that exceed $50, donations from other PACs, and more than $1,000 from the same contributor during an election period.


But a PAC that only makes independent expenditures can receive more than $1,000 from the same contributor, Leach said, citing a federal court ruling.