PAC paid for political infomercial featuring Justice and administration officials

Bray Cary, a top adviser to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, interviews the governor during a political informercial. (WCHS/WVAH)

Building Three at the West Virginia Capitol is the future home of a communication's hub for Gov. Jim Justice.

Justice’s administration has already hired several former television veterans. He has Bray Cary, the former owner of a statewide television company, as an adviser, and there are plans in the works to build a television-style studio. The governor said it’s to help get his message out and to help serve areas and reporters outside of the capital city.

But there has been some pushback. All communication from many different departments now has to come from the hub. Many reporters say they can't get answers to the questions they are asking.

In September, there was a news conference about preparations for Hurricane Florence, but the media wasn't invited. Eyewitness News called and asked if we could cover it, but we were denied access. Instead, a video of the gathering of public officials was sent out by the governor's office.

With that as the backdrop, that is why when a video came out this week of Justice touting candidates and what he calls his accomplishments while in office, many were wondering if that came from the hub because it featured members of his administration, including Cary.

If it was produced with state resources, it would be illegal. But the governor's chief counsel, Brian Abraham, said all rules were followed and it was a campaign video, paid for by a political action committee.

During the 30-minute documentary-style video titled, "The Perfect Storm," Justice urged West Virginians to vote for Republicans in the midterm election, including Carol Miller, who won the District 3 congressional seat, Patrick Morrisey, who lost the Senate race to Joe Manchin, and promoted Evan Jenkins and Tim Armstead, who both won their races for the state Supreme Court, a race that is nonpartisan.

Cary, one of the governor's top advisers who is involved in the newly formed communications hub at the Capitol, conducted the interview.

This aired in four TV markets throughout the state, the day before the election. People in those markets received phone calls and text blasts promoting the show. The state GOP promoted it as an "exclusive interview" with the governor, and Justice also promoted it through Facebook.

There was no clear indication in the promotions that it was a paid political infomercial, but when it aired, that became clear, as required by law.

The political action committee, West Virginians for Fair Courts, paid for the infomercial.

In financial disclosures filed Thursday, the PAC paid nearly $30,000 to one station in Bridgeport and as little as $5,000 to another station in Bluefield to air it as an infomercial. In total, spending about $66,000 at TV stations.

When it comes to the production of the video, Abraham said state resources were used to shoot one section of the video. It’s a clip that was used a few weeks ago at a news conference and uploaded to the governor's YouTube page. Abraham said at that point, it became part of the public domain, and anyone is free to use it, including the PAC producing the infomercial.

Abraham said the rest of the production was paid for by the PAC, which paid an outside company $6,000 to secure a crew, rent a studio space on Kanawha Boulevard and to shoot and edit the infomercial.

Abraham said he checked with the Ethics Commission and Cary was OK to be involved, because it was after hours. Abraham said he also was there during the taping of the interview, to make sure everything was legal.

The Secretary of State's Office said there were no campaign violations because the PAC filed a financial disclosure about the texts and advertising and disclosed its involvement on TV.

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