Morrisey urges crackdown on waste, corruption

SOUTH CHARLESTON – As legislators arrive in Charleston for the 2014 legislative session, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on Monday called for broad action to root out waste and corruption in state government.

Morrisey urged House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, to immediately order audits of all major state offices and report preliminary findings by September. His plea comes on the heels of audit findings that point to questionable practices in the administration of former Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass.

“People in West Virginia are sick and tired of this culture of corruption that infests state government ,” Morrisey said during his lunch address at the Associated Press’ annual Legislative Lookahead at Marshall University’s South Charleston campus. “I find it outrageous that ethical problems and mismanagement can be swept under the rug for many years.”

Morrisey said the Legislature – particularly its distribution of grant funding – also should be included in the audits, which he believes are needed to restore West Virginia residents’ confidence in government.

Following the initial round of audits, he said, a schedule of “rolling audits” of the agencies should be implemented, with the results posted to his office’s website.

“I think the public deserves no less. We desperately need more sunlight because too much has been buried for far too long,” Morrisey said.

The full Agriculture Department audit report has yet to be released publicly. Miley and Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Glen Dale, announced Thursday they’ve ordered the information be turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Douglass has denied knowledge of any improper activity on his watch, according to published reports.

Morrisey also briefly addressed his connection with a lawsuit filed by his predecessor, Darrell McGraw, against Ohio drug firm Cardinal Health – a company that paid millions to a lobbying firm owned by Morrisey’s wife, and whose executives contributed thousands to Morrisey’s 2012 campaign. Morrisey inherited the lawsuit – which alleges Cardinal Health took advantage of prescription drug addiction in the southern part of the state by shipping excessive amounts of its products into the region – upon taking office last January, and announced his decision to recuse himself in July.

On Monday, Morrisey said he was not required by law to step aside, but did so voluntarily to avoid “even the appearance of impropriety.” He said other lawyers in his office are directing the litigation and he’s had no involvement in day-to-day decisions concerning the case.

Morrisey, the first Republican to hold his office since 1933, also touched on some of the changes he’s implemented over the past year.

Since his inauguration, Morrisey said, the attorney general’s office has instituted a competitive bidding process for hiring outside legal counsel, returned more control over how settlement awards are managed to the Legislature and aggressively opposed federal actions he believes imperil West Virginia’s economy – including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s retroactive revocation of a permit for Spruce Mine in Logan County, four years after it was issued.

That case has advanced all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to decide whether it will hear an appeal of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s ruling upholding the EPA’s action.

Morrisey said the Spruce Mine decision, if upheld, would set a dangerous precedent that could extend beyond coal mines and potentially affect any public works project.

“It would create a whole new level of anxiety and uncertainty ,” Morrisey said. “It could be quite sweeping.”