CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - 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
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
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.
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