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Statehouse beat: Racing Commission under the gun

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The saying that it's not paranoia if really everyone is out to get you may well apply to thoroughbred owners and breeders.

Attorneys for the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent Association are asking the state Supreme Court to nullify an interagency agreement that allows the Lottery Commission to perform a variety of services and functions for the state Racing Commission.

While the agreement seems innocuous on the surface, including providing accounting, auditing and legal services, attorney David Hammer believes the action is another step by the state toward marginalizing the Racing Commission.

The first step occurred earlier this year, when then-Revenue Secretary (now Tomblin chief of staff) Charles Lorensen named Lottery Director John Musgrave as deputy secretary with oversight of the Lottery, Racing Commission, Alcohol Beverage Control Administration and Athletic Commission.

An argument could be made that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is doing through administrative order what then-Gov. Joe Manchin couldn't accomplish through legislation: consolidating regulation of all forms of state-sanctioned gambling under the Lottery.

The fear, from Hammer's perspective, is a Lottery-controlled Racing Commission will be amenable to things like cutting live racing days to the point where it won't be feasible to be in the thoroughbred or greyhound business in the state.

Given the downturn in Lottery revenues, at some point the administration or Legislature (or both) will start looking at the $100 million-plus a year the Lottery pays out in purse and breeders' funds subsidies as funds that might be better spent elsewhere.

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Regarding the Ethics Commission's convoluted interpretation of the law prohibiting endorsements by public officials, which currently allows college coaches to do all the endorsements and advertisements they can land, but barred state bloodhounds from appearing in a dog food ad, and ended up in a Ethics citation against Auditor Glen Gainer for appearing in a promotional video to promote the state's P-card system, reader Gwen Hagaman summed up the absurdity of the law succinctly:

"It's painful to me to see celebrity coaches, who are paid multi-millions by schools our children can't afford to attend, hawking products to pad their wallets. This seems to be OK with our legislators. But there are many other places where the public image of West Virginia could be enhanced by sharing what has been done here, at the expense of a corporation who may be involved. This seems problematic, as our legislators can't see the difference between self-serving and state-serving instances. Ethics situations are not so simple that one sentence of a law can be applied fairly. Legislators -- get to work fixing this law."

Ironically, the Ethics Commission last week approved a request from Gainer to allow the issuance of P-cards to employees of the private, nonprofit West Virginia University Foundation.

Commissioners concluded that the overwhelming public benefit to the university outweighed any private gain the Foundation would receive.

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Under the current convolution, if the governor appeared on the telecast of the Greenbrier Classic to say what a great thing the tournament is for the state, and what a great person Jim Justice is for hosting the event, theoretically, he could be cited for an Ethics violation.

Then again, considering coverage of the Sunday final round drew a dismal 1.2 rating on CBS, it's doubtful anyone would have seen such an interview.

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Regarding a persistent Readers' Voice caller citing my failure to report legislative lunches provided by the state Chamber of Commerce, I actually went back and pulled the disclosures for all four Chamber lobbyists to see if I'd missed them.

Sure enough, Steve Roberts reported spending a total of $3,054 to provide East Wing lunches for House members Feb. 27, March 6, March 13, March 20, March 27 and April 3.

Which is still way behind the state AFL-CIO (15 lunches, $4,211), and the Coal Association (17 lunches, $9,212).

Interestingly, the Chamber also spent $1,401 on a March 28 dinner for members of the House and Senate Education committees. (The chamber, you recall, was a big backer of Tomblin's public education reform measures.)

According to the disclosure, the only senator who attended was Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, but all House committee members attended, except Democrats Barill, Fragale, Tomblin, Walker and Young, and Republicans Rowan and Westfall.

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Finally, while it's not nearly as interesting as the Twitter speculation for what would be the ideal business to locate directly across from the Capitol, it looks like Darrell McGraw's and Jorea Marple's house on California Avenue will soon be another lobbying firm's headquarters.

After receiving a zoning variance for parking, Compensation Strategies, a firm that lobbies for the West Virginia Association of Optometric Physicians and others will purchase the house for their headquarters. Lobbyists Nelson Robinson and Chad Robinson will move their offices there from their current location on Washington Street East.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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