Five months after Democrat members of the West Virginia House of Delegates suddenly sent thousands of mailings just prior to the primary, the state Ethics Commission says those lawmakers were in the wrong.
As I've chronicled here since April, House Democrats came under scrutiny after several Delegates - facing tough primaries and an even tougher November general election - mailed out thousands of letters to constituents. In reality, they sent letters targeted to likely voters - mostly Democrat voters - using mailing lists provided by the state Democrat Party. It's known as #MailGate.
The issue has been slowly crawling its way though the West Virginia Ethics Commission, which has since been newly reconstituted. One Delegate asked for an advisory opinion, while a citizen filed a complaint over the mailings by Delegate Jeff Eldridge (D-Lincoln) to 4,000 voters in one city in his three-county district.
Today, the Ethics Committee issued an advisory opinion stating that mailings by state lawmakers using mailing lists provided by political parties did constitute a violation of the Ethics Act.
"If a Legislator sends mail using the franking privilege, during any election season when that Legislator's seat is being contested, to recipients selected due to their voting frequency, that action cannot realistically be construed as anything other than an attempt to influence voters in order to win an election," the opinion states.
The opinion goes on to say that any such mailing done within 60 days of an election is an ethics violation. The Commission encouraged the Legislature to develop rules and regulations regarding franking. In the course of their investigation, they found the Legislature has no set rules on franking other than being asked to "show restraint," whatever that means.
Expect to see complaints filed against the Democrat Delegates to blatantly violated ethics laws. Seeing how state lawmakers seldom used their franking privileges in years past, the sudden influx of mailings show that House Democrats knew what they were doing. They were trying to protect Democrat incumbents to stave off Republicans taking the House majority in November.
Thanks to this ruling, Democrats have one less dirty trick they can pull out of their sleeves.