West Virginia officials urged company to hire lobbyist

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia education official urged the seller of the SAT test to hire the state Republican Party’s former chairman as a lobbyist in order to “neutralize” a lobbyist for the competing ACT test, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

The information comes from court filings after the ACT lobbyist at the time, Jason Webb, sued the schools superintendent at the time, Steve Paine, and Assistant Superintendent Jan Barth in federal court. The lawsuit argues Paine and Barth violated Webb’s freedom of speech and interfered with his business.

Barth testified in a deposition that Paine “frequently” requested the College Board buy him dinner and drinks.

Paine, in his deposition, denied receiving any benefits or gifts from the College Board until an attorney pointed out a 2006 or 2007 trip to China. Paine said he represented the College Board on that trip, but denied any relationship between it and the College Board winning the contract a decade later.

Testimony from the two differs on who first raised the idea of a lobbyist for the College Board. Paine said the company asked him for suggestions, but Barth said the idea came from Paine.

“(The College Board) came to us in December (2018) and they asked what they could do to promote their company and their situation,” Barth said. “And Dr. Paine told them that they needed to hire a lobbyist that had access.”

The officials urged the College Board to hire former GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas after it already won the initial contract from the West Virginia Department of Education to sell the state government the SAT, making it the required standardized test for public high school students.

However, ACT Inc., seller of the ACT test, was continuing to push in the West Virginia Legislature for individual counties to be allowed to replace the SAT with the ACT locally.

Webb, the ACT’s lobbyist at the time, publicly criticized the department on Twitter. Barth argued that these tweets were unfair and took her complaints about Webb to ACT officials.

Jan Fox, an attorney for Barth and Paine, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Fox has requested the case be dismissed. Among other things, she has argued that Webb can’t sue for damages suffered by the ACT.