Outside group makes ad buy in Senate race

July 25, 2014 by Whitney Burdette

Voters across West Virginia can soon expect to see TV ads supporting Senate candidate and current Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.
The Senate Majority PAC announced Thursday it has spent more than $200,000 on the new ad, scheduled to begin running today. According to the Washington Post, the ad buys were made in the Charleston, Beckley and Clarksburg markets and target Tennant’s opponent, Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito. The candidates are running to replace retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller.
Neither campaign has broadcast its own advertising, but Tennant reportedly is buying up time to run her first ad starting Monday. According to a Politico Pro email only sent to subscribers, the Tennant campaign has bought $36,000 on broadcast and $20,000 on cable in the Charleston-Huntington market, $16,000 broadcast and $7,000 cable in the Beckley-Bluefield-Oak Hill market, $8,000 of cable time in the Wheeling market and $87,00 cable time in the Clarksburg-Weston market.
The West Virginia Democratic Party said the Senate Majority PAC’s interest in the race is indicative of the momentum behind Tennant’s campaign. According to a Thursday news release, “The undeniable momentum behind Natalie Tennant’s U.S. Senate campaign continues to grow.”
But Capito’s campaign argues the PAC behind the ad buy is “anti-coal.”
“Senate Majority PAC running ads on Natalie Tennant’s behalf says all you need to know about whose team Tennant is truly on,” said Capito campaign spokeswoman Amy Graham. “Senate Majority PAC is backed by Barack Obama, Harry ‘coal-makes-us-sick’ Reid, anti-coal billionaire Tom Steyer, Hollywood liberals and individuals who are completely opposed to West Virginia’s way of life. Natalie Tennant has repeatedly denounced those who threaten our coal and our values while accepting their support behind voters’ backs. Now that Obama’s liberals are trying to save her sinking campaign, Natalie Tennant can no longer hide her true intentions. The fact is, these people wouldn’t be supporting her if they believed she would stand up to them in the Senate.”
Tennant campaign spokeswoman Jenny Donohue pointed out the PAC is an outside group, and the campaign has no control over who buys ads, the message delivered or who is targeted.

Mooney announces campaign tour

July 25, 2014 by Whitney Burdette

Alex Mooney, the Republican nominee for U.S. House of Representatives in the state’s second congressional district, announced Friday he plans to campaign in all 17 counties comprising the district.
The Campaign for West Virginia Jobs began Friday in Hardy County, where Mooney appeared on local radio station WELD, located outside Moorefield. Afterward, Mooney was scheduled to visit with local business and community leaders, knock on doors and participate in Poultry Festival events in Moorefield.
“I am committed to traveling every county in the district, learning more from local community members and talking about how I will continue to fight for West Virginia families by ending President Obama’s job-killing policies,” Mooney said in a statement. “Hardy County is home to many businesses and farmers that contribute tot his community. I promise to them that I will never stop fighting President Obama’s out-of-touch policies.”
West Virginia’s second congressional district includes 17 counties across the state’s midsection, stretching from Mason County along the Ohio River to the Eastern Panhandle’s Maryland border.
Mooney faces Democratic challenger Nick Casey in the November general election.

Snake spotted on capitol grounds

July 23, 2014 by Whitney Burdette

No, it’s not a joke.
A copperhead was reportedly spotted on the grounds of the West Virginia State Capitol, near Piedmont Road, Tuesday evening. Employees from General Services as well as Capitol Police began searching for the snake after a female employee reported spotting it along the capitol complex’s northern border Tuesday evening. The search continued into Wednesday, but the snake was never caught.
“Given where it was spotted and when it was spotted, it could have moved on,” said Larry Messina, spokesman for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.
Messina said no employee came into contact with the copperhead, and no one was injured. He said grounds employees will keep their eyes open in the coming days in case the snake decides to return.
“General Services will hopefully be keeping their eyes open because they’re on the ground doing things all the time,” he said.
Anyone who sees the snake on the capitol’s campus should contact General Services or the Capitol Police.

More federal funding for chemical leak health studies

July 23, 2014 by Dave Boucher

Federal health agencies pledged to pay for and conduct health studies related to the affects of a chemical that contaminated water for 300,000 West Virginians earlier this year.

Freedom pic

Federal health officials pledged to conduct more animal studies using the chemical involved in the January chemical leak.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, head of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said the National Toxicology Program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences will conduct animals studies using MCHM, the chemical that leaked in January to the Elk River.

The studies, expected to cost anywhere from $750,000 to $1.2 million, will examine short-, intermediate- and long-term health effects of the chemical, Gupta said.

“They’re exactly what I’ve been asking for from the beginning,” Gupta said in a phone interview this morning

First reported by WOWK-TV, the announcement was made this morning at a meeting in the office of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Gupta said he and other state officials didn’t know the federal agency would award the money until they entered the meeting.

“It was a pleasant surprise when we got the call (to come to Washington, D.C.),”  Gupta said.

“We’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel here,” he added.

On Jan. 9 state officials discovered thousands of gallons of chemicals leaking from a faulty storage tank at a facility owned by Freedom Industries along the Elk River. Although investigations are ongoing, it is believed as much as 10,000 gallons of the chemical MCHM made it into the river and contaminated a nearby water treatment facility.

Despite the state issuing a “do not use” order hours after the leak and contamination, more than 500 people went to the emergency room and 26 were admitted after reporting negative health effects they believed were connected to the chemical in their water.

Most of those reporting said they suffered from rashes or other skin irritation and nausea.

Many called for studies of the long-term health effects, pointing to these hospital visits and the lack of information about MCHM, a chemical used in the process of washing coal. Toxicity data–which was also recently questioned–provided little details, and the few studies available about the health effects of the chemical were performed on rats.

Earlier in the year the CDC declined to provide any additional funding for health studies. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he had requested more funding for studies, but would not move forward with any state-paid research until the federal government contributed more money.

Working with the CDC, the state health department released a report in April  that states it’s likely at least some of those symptoms were caused by MCHM. In the days after the leak the state health department said it would take time before anyone could confirm any connection; they also argued ailments like the flu could have played a role in the sudden uptick in ER visits immediately after the leak.

The CDC and state health department report also acknowledge breathing in water vapor that contained the chemical or touching contaminated water also may have caused negative health effects. In creating its 1 part per million safety guideline for how much MHCM could be safely consumed in water, the CDC did not take into account touching or breathing in contaminated water.

The guideline was also only applicable to short-term exposure, which the CDC defined as 14 days. After eventually saying the number was only a short-term guideline, calls for more long-term medical monitoring grew louder.

Gupta and members of the state Legislature persisted. Following considerable debate, state lawmakers passed a bill that required state health officials to pursue the possibility of long-term medical monitoring.

Secretary Karen Bowling of the state health department and Gupta have made several trips to the nation’s capitol to ask for federal funding for such studies.

This is a developing story. Check www.dailymailwv.com throughout the day as more information becomes available.

Live updates: More details expected from CSB on chemical leak

July 15, 2014 by Dave Boucher
Live Blog Chemical Safety Board meets about Freedom Industries leak


National regulators are presenting more information Wednesday about their ongoing investigation into the Jan. 9 chemical leak that tainted tap water for 300,000 West Virginia residents.

Chemical Safety Board Investigator Johnnie Banks is leading the federal team's inquiry into the recent massive chemical leak.

Chemical Safety Board Investigator Johnnie Banks is leading the federal team’s inquiry into the recent massive chemical leak.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is hosting a public meeting at noon Wednesday in the ballroom of the Four Points Sheraton hotel in Charleston.

The federal agency posted a brief video today ahead of the meeting, featuring CSB investigator Johnnie Banks. Banks has led the agency’s efforts in Charleston, and gives a brief overview of the goals of the CSB’s investigation.

“The obvious question is how this came to be. What was the mechanism of failure for this tank, but on a larger scale, how do you get  sit where you have a chemical plant this close to the intake of a water system that treats water for up to 300,000 people in nine counties?” Banks says at the start of the video.

Freedom Industries, owner of the facility, could move forward with demolition of the remaining tanks as soon as today, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The video shows images of the tank that leaked and those surrounding it as well as the overall industrial facility along the Elk River, where the leak occurred. A full transcript from the roughly one minute-long video is below.

Banks and CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso have repeated several recommendations in their recent trips to Charleston. The chemical leak case is the third investigation for the CSB in the Kanawha Valley since 2008, following fatal incidents at the Bayer CropScience facility in Institute and the DuPont facility in Belle.

Those recommendations, which include creating a Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program, have largely gone ignored, Eraso argued earlier in the year.  Both Eraso and Banks appeared before a congressional panel discussing the chemical leak earlier this year, offering similar recommendations .

Although the investigation started six months ago it’s unclear when it will be complete. Allegations of inner-office politics gone awry, reprisals against whistleblowers and criticism of Eraso’s management are fueling GOP calls for the chairman’s resignation.

The same congressional inquiry notes CSB investigations have slowed noticeably due to high turnover amongst an allegedly unhappy staff.

A CSB spokeswoman recently told the Daily Mail the allegations and congressional investigation would not affect the agency’s case regarding the chemical leak.

Look for live updates from the Daily Mail on details provided at the CSB’s public hearing tomorrow.

Transcript from video:

The obvious question is how this came to be. What was the mechanism of failure for this tank, but on a larger scale, how do you get  sit where you have a chemical plant this close to the intake of a water system that treats water for up to 300,000 people in nine counties?

We hope to learn from that and share that information broadly so that other systems can examine their processes and consider their locations and proximity to chemical plants.

And it may not be a water treatment facility, it may be some other facility that has a sensitive infrastructure or treats sensitive or fragile constituents. So all of those factors will be considered as we move forward in this case.

Study: crude MCHM more toxic than initial reports

July 10, 2014 by Dave Boucher

A new study from a scientist involved in the response to the massive chemical leak and subsequent water contamination in January says the chemical could be far more toxic than reported by its manufacturer.

Professor Andrew Whelton speaking earlier this year after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin hired him and other scientists to conduct more research following a massive chemical leak.

Professor Andrew Whelton speaking earlier this year after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin hired him and other scientists to conduct more research following a massive chemical leak.

Professor Andrew Whelton, an environmental engineer with the University of Southern Alabama, released new research today that he says shows crude MCHM is more toxic than test results provided by chemical manufacturer Eastman Chemical. His team tried to recreate the results of Eastman toxicity testing three separate times: none of the results were close to Eastman’s findings.

“The implications of that are while we are unable to reproduce that test, what other tests can or cannot be reproduced where crude MCHM toxicity data exists?” Whelton said.

“Today, people, basically, their frustration about the lack of data about the toxicity of the chemical is reaffirmed I believe, because the data that does exists can’t be recreated.”

The new data doesn’t necessarily mean people are in any new danger, Whelton cautioned. However, he said it’s another piece in a growing body of work that should prove more testing on the chemical–and its long-term health affects–are needed.

“There needs to be some type of testing done, and the people of West Virginia need to demand it. Not simply to their governor, but they have to demand that the leaders of the United States of America support them in their efforts,” Whelton said, speaking over the phone after presenting his findings at a conference in Atlanta.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin recently said there are no plans for more state testing of home plumbing systems–or any other test–until the federal government agrees to help conduct or pay for some testing.

On Jan. 9, the state discovered thousands of gallons of MCHM and other chemicals leaking from a faulty storage tank into the Elk River. The chemicals overwhelmed the local water treatment plant, contaminating the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginia residents for weeks.

Whelton and other scientists came to the area to research the chemical and its possible effects on people or the environment. A substance used in the cleaning of coal, there is very little toxicity or health-related information available about crude MCHM. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged this when questions arose about their ability to create a “safety guideline” of 1 part per million for how much chemical could be in the water and safely consumed.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Whelton and a team tried to recreate the toxicity data provided by Eastman. Whelton said they relied on three different pieces of information from Eastman: a toxicity report from 1998 and material safety data sheets–reports that provide some but typically limited amounts of information about a chemical–from 2005 and 2011.

Both Eastman and Whelton used the same testing methodology; Whelton said the only difference was his team repeated the test three times, where Eastman conducted the test only once. The organism, one frequently used in chemical testing, was exposed to the chemical at various concentrations for 48 hours, Whelton said.

Each of Eastman’s reports state the chemical was toxic, but at larger concentrations than Whelton’s findings. Whelton said the Eastman data showed no observed effect on the tested organism from MCHM at a concentration of 50 parts per million or 40 parts per million. (Whelton said the 40 part per million data seemed to come out of nowhere, his team unable to locate Eastman’s source for that number.)

An observable effect can be anything from noticing the organism is “sluggish” to the organism dying, Whelton said.

The Eastman results indicate that when they exposed the organism to lesser concentrations of the chemical, nothing happened. However, Whelton’s testing showed a noticeable effect at 12.5 parts per million. He said it didn’t show any effect when exposed to 6.25 parts per million.

Whelton said the testing was just completed Tuesday. He sent the findings to Eastman, but didn’t receive a response yet.

This is a developing story. Check back in at www.dailymailwv.com for more information as it becomes available.

Capito raises $1.3 million, Tennant $777k

July 9, 2014 by Dave Boucher

Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito raised $1.3 million in the latest fundraising quarter, about a half million dollars more than Democratic opponent, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito

Capito’s additional money puts the campaign above $7.1 million since she announced her candidacy in late 2012. The congresswoman has “nearly” $5 million cash on hand.

“The strong outpouring of support for Shelley in fundraising for this quarter clearly shows that West Virginians want Shelley to keep working for them,” Capito spokeswoman Amy Graham said in a news release.”

Tennnat, who announced her campaign almost a year after Capito entered the race, raised $777,000 from April 1 to June 30. That’s about the same amount the campaign raised during the first quarter of the year, when it posted a total of $794,000.

Capito’s campaign raised about $817,000 from January 1 to March 30, though.

The latest fundraising puts the Tennant campaign’s total money raised above $2.4 million.

“West Virginians are proving they won’t be bought by sending in donations from all 55 counties to join Natalie’s campaign to end tax breaks for millionaires like Congresswoman Capito and put working families first,” said Jenny Donohue, Tennant’s campaign spokeswoman.

The latest version of the West Virginia Poll, released in May, showed Capito had an 11-point edge over Tennant. Tennant’s campaign repeatedly points out Democrats heavily outnumber registered Republicans in the state, and Tennant received 30,000 more total votes than Capito in their respective primaries.

The general election is Nov. 4.

This is a developing story. Look for more information throughout the day as it becomes available.

 

Reports say new Rahall ad misleading

June 20, 2014 by Dave Boucher

The latest campaign advertisement from the campaign of Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., is coming under fire for mischaracterizing statements made by Rahall’s opponent, state Sen. Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell.

Nick Rahall

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

Both the Washington Post and Factcheck.org say the new ad, called “Listens“, is misleading.

Factcheck.org says the ad “twists” Jenkins’ words, taking a quotation given to the Daily Mail completely out of context. The Post’s “Fact Checker” blog gives Rahall Four Pinocchios, saying the Rahall ad “should be ashamed of this ad.”

(Truth be told, the Post might deserve one Pinocchio for referring to our paper as the “Charlestown Daily Mirror.” Not sure where that came from…)

The issue with the ad comes from the assertion that a large conservative entity backing Jenkins wants to turn Medicare into a voucher program (read more about the idea at the bottom of this article) and therefore Jenkins is “comfortable” taking money from seniors’ pockets.

Americans For Prosperity– a massive conservative entity funded by wealthy brothers David and Charles Koch– is supporting the Jenkins campaign and did at least at one point, support such a concept.  The justification used to show Jenkins’ “support” is the part of the ad that’s raising eyebrows.

Saying Jenkins is “comfortable” with raising seniors’ out-of-pocket costs, the ad splashes a large quotation Jenkins gave to the Daily Mail in 2013. The part shown on screen reads:

“With a little financial skin in the game, they will think about… whether or not ‘I really need to go to the doctor’.”

The full quotation the article, by the DM’s Zack Harold, is pretty close to what’s printed:

“With a little financial skin in the game, they will think about that co-pay when deciding whether or not ‘I really need to go to the doctor’.”

That  co-pay part gets to the crux of the issue: Jenkins was talking to the Daily Mail about Medicaid not Medicare. He was talking about any person using Medicaid–not just seniors, as the plan is created for people with little means.

And Jenkins wasn’t talking about taking $6,000 from anyone, as is implied by the dollar amount inflating on the screen in the ad. (The ad cites a 2011 Congressional Budget Office report relying on details of the a plan that was changed substantially.)

State Sen. Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell.

State Sen. Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell.

Jenkins was talking about $8 and $4 dollar co-pays health care providers are allowed to charge certain Medicaid recipients in certain situations.

The Rahall campaign did not immediately respond to the Daily Mail, but told the Post and Factcheck.org they stood by the ad. The Post says it received a campaign statement that reads:

“The point of the ad is that Evan Jenkins believes in raising seniors’ out-of-pocket costs, just like his wealthy backers,” a campaign statement said. “They share that belief whether it’s Medicare or seniors’ copays – the consequences are the same: seniors pay more.”

This is not the first time the Rahall camp has faced questions around a potentially misleading ad. Factcheck.org called an assertion in a different Rahall ad that Jenkins promised to repeal black lung benefits “bogus.”

Jenkins disowned his previous affiliation with the Democratic party to challenge for Rahall’s seat as a Republican.

While the district supported Mitt Romney overwhelmingly in the 2012 presidential election and national GOP believes the seat is a top pick-up prospect, the Rahall camp says internal polls have the congressman leading substantially.

The general election is Nov. 4.

 

—————————————————————————————————————————————————–

 

Medicare as a voucher program:

The concept of changing the popular government-funded health care program for seniors into a system where they could use vouchers (essentially checks sent by the government) to purchase care is controversial.  Democrats consistently used the concept against then-presidential contender Mitt Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., a leading architect of a GOP plan that initially suggested such a change.

 

Report: WV could lose more than $200 million in federal Medicaid money

June 17, 2014 by Dave Boucher

West Virginia could stop receiving more than $200 million in federal Medicaid funding if it doesn’t stop sending payments to providers facing “credible” allegations of fraud, according to a new report provided to lawmakers today.

The information from the office of the West Virginia Legislative Auditor states the West Virginia Bureau for Medicaid Services sent almost $230 million to providers accused of several different types of fraud.

The data is an update to a previous report released by the legislative auditor in October 2013. The report said the state is ignoring a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires suspending payments to Medicaid providers after the state determines an allegation of fraud is credible.

If the state continues to pay those providers after they’ve referred cases to the Medicaid Fraud Unit, it could stand to lose a significant amount of federal funding, according to the legislative auditor’s report.

The bureau, operating under the state Department of Health and Human Resources, disputed the auditor’s initial claims. Since the release of the report, the legislative auditor said the bureau argued it had received a “verbal statement” from the federal government that said they were not issuing payments inappropriately.

After the legislative auditor requested proof of any federal approval, the bureau said it had received a written document recently but “it cannot discuss the contents of the correspondence with anyone,” according to the auditor’s office.

The legislative auditor’s office recently received information from the bureau about the amount of money it’s paid to the 65 providers with fraud referrals included in the 2013 report.

“The (bureau) provided two sets of referrals for review, a provider referral and a caseworker referral,” reads a statement from the legislative auditor’s office.

” After review, (the bureau) has paid the providers with fraud referrals $17.9 million and caseworker referrals over $211 million.”

State lawmakers are scheduled to discuss the new information this afternoon.

 

Report: Charleston judge ‘rubber stamped’ disability claims

June 10, 2014 by Dave Boucher

By DAVE BOUCHER

CAPITOL BUREAU CHIEF

A Charleston Social Security judge is accused of rubber stamping more than $2.5 billion in lifetime social security benefits since 2005, according to a congressional report released today.

Administrative law Judge Judge Harry Taylor reportedly approved 94 percent of the cases presented before him between 2005 and 2013, according to an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“When ALJ Taylor held hearings, the review found that he never elicited testimony from medical experts,” states the report, citing a a formal review from 2011.

“The report found that an ‘overreaching problem’ with the reviewed decisions ‘was a lack of rationale. … There would be little evaluation of the evidence and no function by function assessment of the claimant’[sic] abilities.’”

Taylor is one of four administrative law judges specifically noted in the report, created by the Republicans on the committee. Democratic staff on the committee say Taylor and the other three judges are the exception to the norm, reports The Associated Press.

Of the 8,77o people with claims before Taylor between 2005 and 2013, Taylor approved 8,277 cases, the report states.

“He had an overall allowance rate of nearly 94 percent and awarded benefits to nearly 6,000 people without a hearing,” the report states.

The congressional committee is reviewing the report this morning.

Taylor, who’s served as an administrative law judge in Charleston since 1988, described what he said was his judgement process in a statement sent to the committee.

“I have always been a person driven to work. With very few hobbies except those of my children, my dedication and attention has always been on my work days, nights , and even weekends,” Taylor said at the end of the four-page statement.

An administrative law judge in the federal Social Security Administration hears appeals of benefits denied to those applying for benefits. The claimants must have already lost an appeal before a local field office before receiving a ruling from the administrative law judge.

Taylor is also accused of leaving an inappropriate message on a female employee’s voicemail, conducting “sloppy work” and routinely falling asleep during hearings and in his office.

“(An administrative inspector) also recounted numerous other sleeping incidents witnessed by other SSA employees and court officials,” the report states.

“He recounted one employee’s statement that ‘Judge Taylor’s snoring was the subject of discussion/humor among the writers whose offices are nearby’ and that he could ‘be heard snoring just about every other day.’”

Taylor was eventually suspended for 14 days.

Since the suspension Taylor is accused of more inappropriate conduct toward female employees and more sleeping in court, in addition to questionable rulings, the report states. There is an open investigation by the Social Security Administration.

“ALJ Taylor’s high decision total, high number of decisions without hearings, and excessive allowance rate, combined with his personal misconduct, demonstrate that ALJ Taylor should not be deciding disability cases,” the report states.

“However, ALJ Taylor continues to decide a full caseload, and award s benefits to nearly every claimant before him .”

 

This report comes months after a U.S. Senate report that said Huntington retired administrative law Judge David Daugherty colluded with lawyer Eric Conn to approve more than 1,800 between 2006 and 2010. Conn received more than $4.5 million in fees from the Social Security Administration heard by Daugherty during the same time period, according to the report.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oka., said Tuesday no criminal charges have been filed against Conn or Daugherty.

This is a developing story. Check back at www.dailymailwv.com throughout the day as more information becomes available.