CHARLESTON - A legislative committee has cleared stiffer conflict-of-interest standards for West Virginia's attorney general, who called the action politically motivated.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 13-7 in favor of a bill that would prohibit the attorney general from overseeing cases involving any company that donated money to his election campaign or from which the attorney general or his immediate family currently or previously benefited.
"Let's not forget the AG is the top lawyer for the State of West Virginia," said Del. Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson. "He or she should be held to the highest standards."
The bill was introduced after it was revealed that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey had ties to two pharmaceutical companies his office was suing. The case dealt with claims arising from prescription pill profits the companies made in West Virginia. Morrisey recused himself and two other state agencies are now overseeing the case.
A spokeswoman for Morrisey, a Republican, called the bill "partisan politics" by House Democrats. She said lawmakers, the governor, members of the Board of Public Works and members of the judiciary should be held to the same standard. She also said it would cost millions of dollars in contracted lawyer fees.
"This legislation is a dangerous and unprecedented experiment and shows just how out of touch the West Virginia Democrat House leadership is with the public," office spokeswoman Beth Gorczyca Ryan said.
The proposal heads to the House floor next. It hasn't been considered yet in the Senate.
The bill also would limit the attorney general's ability to file court briefs if they don't reflect sentiments of the agencies or people he represents. Morrisey is the first Republican attorney general in 80 years, and serves alongside a Democratic Legislature and five Democratic elected constitutional officers.
His briefs have advocated causes backed by Republicans, including gun ownership rights, and opposed those backed by Democrats, including federal environmental regulations affecting the coal industry and the Affordable Care Act.
House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, has criticized Morrisey for ties to the two pharmaceutical companies, Cardinal Health and Sanofi, in the lawsuit.
Morrisey said he recused himself from the cases because he lobbied for Sanofi and his wife lobbies for both companies.
Morrisey has called for widespread auditing of the Legislature, agencies and elected offices to find fraud and wasteful spending.
He has made a case by highlighting a Department of Agriculture audit that detailed problems in a loan program and questionable expenses from former Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass.