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Super PAC spending in WV Senate race ramps up as Manchin bows out

Nadia Ramlagan

The race to replace Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has heated up since the 76-year-old moderate announced he won’t be running for reelection.

Outside groups have spent $4 million on the Republican primary since Manchin’s Nov. 9 announcement, more than triple what they spent in the seven months before. In total, super PACs have spent over $5.1 million on the race so far.

Rep. Alex Mooney and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice are both running for the Republican nomination. The general election was ranked a toss-up by the Cook Political Report before Manchin’s exit but has since turned into a solid red seat, meaning the winner of the Republican primary is favored to win the general election too. While there have not been any polls since Manchin’s announcement, the latest from Emerson College predicted in October that Justice would outperform Mooney.

Last week, a previously inactive super PAC called Defend American Jobs dropped $1.5 million into the race on a media buy for Justice. The group raised $4.7 million last year, according to OpenSecrets’ analysis of a campaign finance disclosure filed Jan. 29. Coinbase and Ripple Labs, two cryptocurrency companies, each contributed $1.5 million. Another $1.5 million was contributed by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Defend American Jobs is affiliated with Fairshake, a Florida-based crypto-focused super PAC that has spent money supporting both Democrats and Republicans in over a dozen House races across the country late last year. On Jan. 31, Fairshake disclosed to the Federal Election Commission that it had $67 million on hand at the start 2024. The group gave $150,000 to Defend American Jobs last year.

Fairshake’s website says it “supports candidates committed to securing the United States as the home to innovators building the next generation of the internet,” and Axios reports an operative of the group says it supports candidates who are “pro-innovate, pro-responsible regulation, pro-crypto, pro-blockchain technology.”

The only public action or statement by Justice regarding cryptocurrency seems to be in 2017, when the then-Democrat Justice signed a bill into law that defined cryptocurrency and made it illegal to use it to launder money in West Virginia.

Despite the recent spending surge for Justice, Mooney has received more support from super PACs in total. Since April, groups have spent $2.7 million supporting the five-term representative or opposing the governor, with $1.6 million of that spent between Manchin’s November announcement and the end of 2023.

Conservative advocacy group Club for Growth is the top spender boosting Mooney with $2.1 million supporting him or opposing Justice. The group announced last July that its super PAC and the Protect Freedom PAC had raised more than $13 million to support Mooney’s bid for Senate.

Mooney is also endorsed by the Senate Conservatives Fund, which has spent $220,000 supporting him.

Justice has attracted much less super PAC support, especially before Manchin dropped out. Before November, the only outside spending supporting Justice was $75,000 from More Jobs, Less Government, a super PAC that has primarily spent money on races in Montana. Its top donor last election cycle was the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC dedicated to electing Republicans to the House of Representatives.

After Manchin’s announcement, Justice garnered support from the Conservative Americans PAC, a group that received millions from conservative dark money groups ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. The Conservative Americans PAC was called a “pop-up” super PAC in 2022, as it launched shortly before many races, allowing it to forgo disclosing its donors until after multiple primaries. The group spent $883,000 supporting Justice and opposing Mooney in the last two months of 2023.

Justice’s campaign committee raised more money than Mooney’s during 2023. But by the end of the year, Mooney had more money on hand than Justice because he transferred over $1 million from his House campaign committee. If Justice needs more cash, he could dip into his own wealth, which he did in both his 2016 and 2020 runs for governor.