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Pre-candidates for West Virginia governor bring in donations

CHARLESTON — The candidate filing period is 10 months away, but potential candidates are already raising money in anticipation of becoming the next governor of West Virginia.

Pre-candidates for office had between March 30 and April 5 to turn in their 2019 annual campaign finance report. Any pre-candidate who receives more than $500 in campaign donations must submit the annual report to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.

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.

Pre-candidates are not required to list what office they’re planning to seek, but there are 10 pre-candidates for governor listed on the Secretary of State’s Campaign Finance Reporting System. Four Republicans, three Democrats, two independents, and one Constitution Party pre-candidate are listed.

One Democrat who did not declare what office he was seeking on his pre-candidacy paperwork was Stephen Smith, the former leader of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. Having launched his campaign for governor in November, Smith has raised $148,098 in contributions, the vast majority coming from individual contributions.

“This is an important moment for our movement,” Smith said in a statement Saturday. “We’re proving that a people-funded campaign is not only possible in West Virginia. It’s the only thing that will give us the government we deserve.”

The Smith campaign spent $87,057, leaving it with a balance of $62,040. Recently, the Smith campaign started reaching outside the state for support, including at events in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Cambridge, Mass. The Smith campaign was a week behind in filing its annual report, claiming that the number of pages listing their small donations caused problems for the Secretary of State’s electronic filing system.

The only other Democratic pre-candidate to report fundraising numbers was Jody Murphy, a former reporter for The Parkersburg News and Sentinel and Pleasants County economic development leader. According to his campaign finance report, Murphy brought in $20 in contributions and spent $346, leaving his campaign $326 in the red.

“I’m a working West Virginian,” Murphy said. “I can’t write my campaign a check for $100,000 or even $30,000. If I am going to have any shot at getting my ideas to improve the state to voters and gain traction as a serious candidate, I need to raise some serious money. That said, I haven’t started any real fundraising efforts yet.”

On the Republican side, Gov. Jim Justice reported no campaign donations and no expenditures, but showed $17,429 in unpaid bills. The campaign owes $7,429 to a flower shop and the Greenbrier Resort related to Justice announcing his re-election campaign Jan. 7 at the White Sulphur Springs resort.

The campaign also didn’t file their reporting until April 12, a week after the April 5 deadline. Contact information for the Justice campaign was not immediately available.

The only other Republican candidate to report campaign contributions was Mike Folk, a former member of the House of Delegates representing Berkeley County. Folk served until 2018, when he lost his race for state Senate taking on incumbent Democrat John Unger.

“February was a little slow fundraising, but it picked up a good bit and April may turn into a good month,” Folk said. “I’m just priming the pump.”

According to his campaign finance report, Folk brought in $10,504 in contributions and spent $2,477, leaving him with a balance of $9,126.

Folk, an airline pilot, said he has spent time traveling the state talking with teachers and at Republican Lincoln Day dinners. His next stop us the Lincoln Day dinner April 23 in Wood County.

“Obviously you want to do a little better at fundraising, but we made significantly more in March than we did in February,” Folk said. “Things are looking up for the future.”

New campaign finance regulations go into effect on June 7. With the passage of Senate Bill 622, the donation cap for candidates will rise from $1,000 to $2,800 to match federal limits.

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