New Evidence Of Illegal Campaign Donations To West Virginia Judge Emerges

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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New evidence has emerged suggesting a corporate entity funneled thousands of dollars to a West Virginia Supreme Court judge’s re-election campaign at the urging of an attorney who had a major case pending on the high court’s docket.

A source involved in a series of campaign contributions made to West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis told The Daily Caller News Foundation that they believed a corporate entity may have donated at least $6,000 to her 2012 re-election campaign in the names of various people connected to the company, as a personal favor for a friend of the firm’s president.

Contribution records reviewed by TheDCNF show that six individuals from Plant City, Fla., contributed to Davis’s 2012 campaign. All six donations were made in the amount of $1,000, the maximum allowed by West Virginia law. Each donation was made on Jan. 12, 2012.

None of these individuals has an extensive history of political activism. It is unclear what connection, if any, the Plant City donors have to West Virginia judicial politics.

The only connection the donors have to each other is their relationship with Steve Edwards, president of a Plant City landscaping company called S&O Greenworks. Though no contributions were made in Edwards’ name, several came from individuals close to him and his company.

His wife, Jennifer Edwards, appears to have made two contributions to the Davis re-election effort. One contribution was made in her married name, and another was made in the name Jennifer Schlichenmayer, Edwards’s maiden name. Two other S&O Greenworks employees also made donations. Additional contributions came from two individuals who live on Steve Edwards’ street.

One of these individuals told TheDCNF that they did not make a donation to the Davis campaign, and that any donation made in their name was submitted without their knowledge or permission. The source asked for anonymity in order to speak candidly about the donations.

The individual claims that they first learned a donation was made in their name to Davis from press accounts. The source said that they are not politically active and had never heard of Robin Jean Davis before reading those reports.

“No,” the source replied when asked if they donated to the Davis campaign. “I have never been into politics. I don’t know anyone like [Justice Davis.]”

The source said they believed the donation was made by Steve Edwards using S&O Greenworks funds at the behest of a Mississippi-based attorney named Michael Fuller. Edwards and Fuller have a longstanding personal relationship.

Fuller is a partner at the McHugh Fuller Law Group, and argued a major case before Justice Davis in 2014. The case concerned a $91.5 million judgement Fuller had secured for his client against a nursing home in a trial court in West Virginia.

Other lawyers at his firm, as well as their relatives, also made $1,000 donations to the Davis campaign on Jan. 12, 2012, the same day the Plant City contributions were made. During this same period, Fuller purchased a private jet from Davis.

Davis later wrote an opinion preserving much of a $91.5 million judgement Fuller secured in a trial court.

The source said Steve Edwards once informed them that he would use company funds to do a favor for Fuller, though they did not know what the funds were being used for.

“I have to cut a couple of checks out of our account for something that [Fuller’s] doing, but he’s going to reimburse us,” the source said, quoting Edwards. “I remember thinking ‘This guy’s a multi-millionaire, why does he need to borrow money from us?'”

The source added they believed the funds expended by S&O Greenworks at Fuller’s urging totaled approximately $10,000. They further claimed that other contributions emanating from S&O employees were likely made at Edwards’ orders or by Edwards himself.

The Campaign Legal Center’s Paul Ryan, an expert on campaign finance laws, told TheDCNF that the fact posture of this case suggests the existence of a straw donor racket. A straw donation occurs when individuals use another’s money to make political contributions in their own name or in the names of others. Straw donations are illegal.

Ryan did not pass a definitive judgement on the facts of this case, and emphasized he is not an expert on the campaign finance laws particular to West Virginia.

“$1,000 contributions are highly unusual from people of modest means in my experience,” he told TheDCNF. “Particularly when the contribution is going to someone in another state, when the contribution is coming from someone with no track record of involving themselves as political contributors, those are all red flags to me.”

“I wouldn’t refer to straw donors as a common practice,” he added. “It’s always unusual, it’s always a big deal, in my opinion, and I want to see strong enforcement to prevent use of straw donors.”

The source’s allegations concerning the use of S&O funds for political contributions also raise legal questions, as does Fuller’s alleged promise to reimburse the company for the expenditures.

Steve Edwards and Michael Fuller did not respond to TheDCNF’s inquiries about this story.

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