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Perdue, Hall spar over campaign contributions

Chip Ellis
Candidates for state treasurer: incumbent John Perdue (D), and Mike Hall (R).

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's Republican candidate for state treasurer sharply criticized incumbent John Perdue Tuesday for accepting $28,800 in campaign contributions from at least 35 state employees who work in Perdue's office.

 "It appears to be a shakedown of employees," said Mike Hall, the state Senate minority leader who's running against Perdue in the Nov. 6 primary.

Perdue, a Democrat, said he never solicited a dime from any Treasurer's Office worker. His office has about 90 full-time employees, Perdue said.   

"I'm not shaking down any employee," he said. "I never have asked an employee for any donations."

Hall and Perdue met with Gazette editors Tuesday.

About half of the 35 employees donated $1,000 - the maximum allowed. The others gave as little as $25, and up to $750.

Hall alleged that relatives of Perdue's staff donated an additional $16,145 to the treasurer's reelection campaign.

"It's like it's an operation, a ready-made campaign machine that guys like me don't have," said Hall.

Perdue said he "crossed all the Ts and dotted all the Is," while accepting donations form his office staff. 

"These are professional people who make up their minds to donate," he said. "I did not solicit any of those contributions. It is a legal donation."

This isn't the first time Perdue employees have contributed to their boss's campaign.

While running in the Democratic primary in 2011, Perdue accepted more than $38,000 in donations from at least 41 state employees who worked in the Treasurer's Office. Thirty-five of those workers gave the $1,000 maximum.

Some of those employees earned less than $35,000 a year, raising questions about how they could afford to contribute $1,000.

Last November, FBI agents fanned out across West Virginia, asking Perdue's employees about the 2011 gubernatorial campaign contributions.

The interviews came amid a federal investigation of Perdue's property sale in Mason County to Charleston housing developer Douglas E. Pauley.

Pauley, a longtime Perdue friend and campaign donor, is cooperating with the ongoing investigation and won't face criminal charges, if he continues to provide information to federal prosecutors, according to an agreement he has with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Perdue said Tuesday he didn't know the status of the federal investigation.

Pauley received $3.47 million in federal stimulus funds to build a 32-unit housing project - called Milton Place - and named after Perdue's late father-in-law. The West Virginia Housing Fund awarded the stimulus funds. Perdue sits on the agency's board of directors.

In 2007, the state Ethics Commission gave Perdue the green light to sell his land to Pauley for the project.

"I followed the law," Perdue said Tuesday. "I followed the regulations."

Hall said a "cloud" hangs over the Treasurer's Office because of the Mason County land deal.

"It's my understanding the investigation is still active," Hall said. "I go to the Northern Panhandle and they don't anything about it. I go to Mason County, and they know all about it."

Also Tuesday, Hall criticized Perdue for hiring "local government specialists," who work out of field offices throughout West Virginia and tout Treasurer's Office programs, such as the 529 college savings plan.

Perdue said his office employs "11 or 13" government specialists. Hall said Perdue has 22 such employees on staff.

"We have a lot of programs we have to market," Perdue said. "They're out there marketing every day, and I'll make no apologies for it."

Hall alleged that local government specialists recently attended a Treasurer's Office training seminar at a Kanawha City hotel, then afterward contributed money at a Perdue campaign event at Appalachian Power Park.

The local government specialists drove state-owned vehicles to Charleston. (Hall passed out photos of the state vehicles after Tuesday's meeting with Gazette editors.) The state also picked up their lodging expenses, Hall said.

Hall said 19 Treasurer's Office employees donated money at the campaign event.

"It just doesn't look good," Hall said. 

Perdue said Hall inflated the number of employees who showed up at the Aug. 27 fundraiser in Charleston.

"Hardly any of my employees attended," Perdue said.

Perdue, who was elected state treasurer in 1996, said the office has undergone significant improvements under his watch.

Perdue established the SMART529 college savings program, which now has more than a billion dollars in investments and 100,000 participants.

Perdue said the Treasurer's Office has received national recognition for returning more than $100 million in unclaimed property. His office also has reduced the number of printed checks the state issues from five million a year to a million annually, he said. 

In addition, Perdue said his office has helped the state receive a AA1 bond rating, the highest rating ever.

"If you look at where we were before and now, it's second to none," Perdue said.

Hall acknowledged that Perdue's office is doing "positive things."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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