Legislator pulls ad promoting dealership
CHARLESTON – A southern West Virginia lawmaker has pulled a television ad for his car dealership that featured a testimonial by the president of the state’s largest teachers’ union.
Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, told media outlets that he stopped running the commercial for his Bluefield dealership, Bill Cole Automall on Monday.
In the ad, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee says, “The personal touch was so good that we have continued to buy cars from him … It all comes from the relationship we’ve built with Bill. Those relationships are what’s most important to me.”
The ad includes footage of Lee and Cole in the Senate lounge at the Capitol in Charleston, along with footage of Lee driving around Charleston.
Lee told media outlets that he asked Cole to drop the ad after ethics questions arose at the Capitol.
State ethics law prohibits public officials from using their offices for their private gain or the private gain of another person or business.
“I made a mistake,” Lee said. “I was doing something for a friend and for a car dealership where I’ve been buying cars for 14 years.”
Lee said he had failed to separate his rights as a private citizen from being a public figure.
“As long as I’m president of WVEA, I’ll no longer shoot any more commercials,” Lee said.
Cole said he didn’t realize there could be potential ethics issues.
“If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t ask him to do the ad,” Cole said. “I’m surprised at the level of scrutiny this is getting.”
Cole, who was elected in 2012, voted for a $1,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers that the Legislature approved on the last day of this year’s regular session. Lee had lobbied for the pay raise.
“I have a 100 percent record for education,” Cole said. “I think education reform is key and critical to our state.”
Lee said the WVEA had endorsed Cole’s Democratic opponent, former Sen. Mark Willis, in the 2012 election.
He said Cole’s son, who works for the dealership, had asked him to participate in the ad. Lee, a Mercer County native, had coached Cole’s son on the Bluefield High School golf team.
Both Lee and Cole said Lee did not receive any compensation for appearing in the ad.