Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

The (Charleston) Gazette-Mail. Aug. 2, 2021.

Editorial: Mooney’s spending looks bad, sanctions unlikely

The Office of Congressional Ethics is reportedly investigating Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., on suspicion the congressman spent tens of thousands of dollars of campaign money for his personal use.

The complaint suggests Mooney spent campaign funds to cover food and travel expenses, along with items like wine and cigars, and even used the money to take trips to resorts, according to a report from the Gazette-Mail’s Mike Tony.

Federal law prohibits spending campaign money for personal use. A campaign official for Mooney denied there was any improper spending, noting that every expense was tied to some sort of campaign event or meeting.

The explanations offered up for the spending are flimsy and vague. Sure, they could be stretched to fit, but the nature and frequency of the spending makes any campaign connections seem tenuous. It’s also interesting that Mooney stopped spending from his campaign fund last month, after the investigation was opened.

In some cases, the offered excuses for campaign spending make Mooney look much worse if true. Traveling to Universal Studios Hollywood using campaign money to pay for lodging exceeding $1,800 and to have a meal with a contributor doesn’t reflect well on Mooney’s priorities for his own state and district, nor proper concern for how he manages donated funds. It’s just another stone on top of the mountain of evidence suggesting Mooney moved to West Virginia from Maryland so he could get elected to Congress, and doesn’t much care about the needs of his constituents.

Then again, if meeting with and soliciting cash from outside interests were disqualifying, none of West Virginia’s congressional delegation would be in office. And we’re sure Mooney’s far from the only member of the U.S. House with some sketchy spending of campaign funds. By the same token, just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t make it right. It simply speaks to the level of dysfunction in the country’s political system.

Along that same line, even if the Office of Congressional Ethics finds Mooney violated campaign finance law, the chances of holding Mooney accountable seem pretty slim. The ethics office doesn’t have subpoena power, and can’t recommend any sanctions. Instead, the office brings the issue to the House Ethics Committee, which might not investigate. The process also relies on the House member in question willingly cooperating. That happens about 25% of the time — a fairly dismal record.

Because of the office’s lack of power, the fact that it would even open an investigation shows there are likely serious concerns, experts told Tony.

If Mooney misused campaign money, he should be held accountable. But the system as it exists doesn’t make accountability a priority.

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The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch. July 30, 2021.

Editorial: Time is now to comment on WV redistricting

West Virginia legislators have begun their listening tour to receive public comment on how to redraw legislative and congressional district boundaries after the Census Bureau releases detailed population data next month.

The first stop on the tour was Tuesday night in Winfield, where Putnam County residents said they wanted district lines drawn so the county would have more representation in the Legislature. Four of the five House of Delegate districts that include parts of Putnam County also extend into other counties, residents said.

That sounded similar to what Mason County residents said a couple of decades ago, when their county was divided up so that it had no residents in the House. Instead, its delegates all lived in neighboring counties.

The current 100 House members are elected from 67 districts. Of those, 22 members are elected from 11 two-member districts, 18 are elected from six three-member districts, eight are elected from two four-member districts and five are elected from a five-member district. Five in one district is too many, but it’s better than the first decade of the 2000s when Kanawha County had a seven-member district.

Three years ago, the Legislature passed a law requiring 100 single-member districts in this cycle. That’s true to the one person, one vote guidance laid down by the U.S. Supreme Court years ago. The trick will be deciding which delegates who live in multi-member districts will be forced to face off against each other in next year’s primary, if there indeed will be any.

Redistricting the Senate may be a bit more difficult, as there are only 17 districts in an oddly shaped state whose population density varies widely. It’s easy to keep districts in the panhandles and the interior counties relatively compact, but central and southern counties along the borders make for some bizarre districts.

The 6th District is the worst example of this. It contains all of Monroe County, most of McDowell County and parts of Mingo and Wayne counties along the Kentucky border. That means someone in Monroe County who lives a few miles from Lewisburg has the same two state senators as someone who lives in Prichard. That’s just not right, and it must be corrected.

With West Virginia’s membership in the U.S. House of Representatives dropping from three to two in the 2022 election, the question is whether to divide the state north-south or east-west. The north-south division is the most logical, but the answer may be determined by which of the state’s three House members — David McKinley, Alex Mooney or Carol Miller — the state Republican Party wants to protect and which two it will throw against each other, assuming all three plan to run next year.

After this week, the next public meetings by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Redistricting move to the northern part of the state. Meetings in this area are scheduled for Aug. 26 at the Cabell County Courthouse and Sept. 9 at the Culture Center on the Capitol Complex in Charleston. All meetings are 6-8 p.m.

The window for comment is a short one. If you have something legislators should know about redistricting, now is the time to say it.

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The (Fairmont) Times West Virginian. Aug. 1, 2021.

Editorial: The best is yet to come for the DAC

Often after a storm blows through an area, a rainbow can appear to warm the hearts of all who witness its colorful display.

However, for the Disability Action Center, it’s taken about a month and a half to find their rainbow after the devastating storms of mid-June that flooded their building.

Wherever they are visible, rainbows come as a sign of new hope and make their viewer feel renewed and ready to shake off their troubles of the past.

And that’s exactly what Marion County saw this past week when West Virginia Senators Bob Beach, D-13, of Morgantown, and Mike Caputo, D-13, of Rivesville, donated $100,000 each to help the DAC buy its new building.

The generous donations were presented at the Marion County Commission meeting Wednesday and come from discretionary funds lawmakers have access to for constituents in their districts. Originally, the two senators said they were able to donate $44,000 each, but after further checking, they found the figure was much higher.

What’s happening here is a tremendous act of support that we applaud and say, “This is just what our community needs.” Bravo, senators Beach and Caputo.

These two men have planted a stake in the ground that says we are going to help and support the less fortunate. We are going to ensure that people with physical and intellectual disabilities are not hidden or left behind in Marion County.

At the same time, this entire quest for a new facility for the DAC is a testament of grit and determination of not only DAC Executive Director Julie Sole, but another person who buckled down and helped intercede on behalf of the DAC. That person is Tina Shaw, president of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce.

It was Shaw who summoned Beach and Caputo and other community leaders to a meeting where the two senators first announced their original donations. From there, hearts were opened and a plan was put in place to right the ship that is the DAC.

It’s actions like these that instill pride in one’s community and show how new ideas and working for the greater good is essential to sustaining a favorable quality of life.

When Sole said she just could not fathom spending precious donor funds to restore their flooded facility on Benoni Avenue, she meant it and she was right. What Sole did was simply good stewardship of funds that were donated to fund the DAC’s programs that teach various life and job skills to its clientele.

With a new facility and hopefully an environment in which we’ve all emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, the DAC’s programs, such as its food service program Feel Good Meals, Feel Good Laundry, Feel Good Fitness and Feel Good Cleaning can thrive and even possibly expand.

In a previous Times West Virginia story, Sole said opportunities like these are important not only for DAC clients, but for the community at large to see their abilities demonstrated in a work environment.

In other words, everybody wins.

So, from this point forward, the dollar amount not been made public yet, but the county commission is on record as saying it plans to donate funds for the DAC’s new building. Fairmont Mayor Tom Mainella said the city is also going to make a donation to the DAC’s new location, which will be revealed in the weeks ahead.

It’s our hope that what emerges on the other side of this rainbow is a stronger and renewed DAC serving the city of Fairmont and Marion County and perhaps beyond.

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The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register. Aug. 3, 2021.

Editorial: McKinley Working For West Virginia

Most patients are likely unaware of the ins and outs of the 340B drug pricing program, which requires pharmaceutical companies to provide drugs at a discount for certain hospitals and clinics serving the neediest of patients. But in areas such as rural Appalachia, that kind of program can mean the difference between life and death for some.

Still those pharmaceutical companies, insurers and pharmacy benefit managers will find ways to make as much money as possible, even if it means exploiting loopholes in programs like 340B. Lawmakers will have to fight back, and Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., are working to do just that.

Preserving Rules Ordered for the Entities Covered Through (PROTECT) 340B would stop the big guys from “pick-pocketing,” as Spanberger put it, the clinics and hospital systems that provide lower-cost prescription drugs for those who need it.

“The 340B drug pricing program is a vital part of many rural and underserved areas. Without it, many providers would not be able to provide critical services and low-cost medicine to the communities they serve,” McKinley said. “Yet, actions taken by big pharmaceutical companies and middlemen have jeopardized the ability of clinics and hospitals to provide vital services. Our bipartisan bill will hold pharmaceutical companies accountable and ensure access to affordable medicine.”

Rural and underserved. Those words shouldn’t be a flashing light to those looking for populations to exploit for profit, but they are.

We might have to pick the pharmaceutical, insurance and PBM companies out of a few of the pockets of lawmakers who will decide the fate of this bill, first. But surely lawmakers understand this one is a no-brainer, if we are to be certain poor, rural, and generationally underserved patients get the care they need.

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