A national shortage of new vehicles apparently has the West Virginia Governor’s Office scrambling to find enough luxury pickups to give out as prizes in Gov. Jim Justice’s vaccination incentive sweepstakes, based on the response to a Freedom of Information Act request for a list of vendors and expenditures for the trucks and firearms being given out as weekly prizes.
In response, the Governor’s Office provided invoices for six vehicles purchased from four dealerships between June 8 and June 29. All six are 2021 models.
Since the state is giving away two pickups a week for each of the seven weekly prize drawings through Aug. 4, that means the Governor’s Office has acquired less than half the vehicles needed for the sweepstakes.
The Governor’s Office also appears to be buying whatever luxury pickups are available from state dealerships, with purchases of three Ford F-150s, two Chevrolet Silverados and one GMC Sierra, at prices ranging from $62,693 to $81,433.
Justice previously said funding for the more than $10-million-plus worth of sweepstakes prizes is coming out of unexpended federal CARES Act pandemic recovery stimulus funds.
“It is taxpayers’ dollars, but it’s coming from the federal government. It’s not coming out of our pocket in West Virginia,” Justice said of the sweepstakes costs.
He has refused to cancel the remaining weeks of the sweepstakes, even though it has failed to achieve its goal of spurring the vaccine hesitant to get their shots, with state vaccination rates plummeting to new lows each week.
“You could say, well, they’re not terribly successful,” Justice said, when initially asked about the prospects of calling off the sweepstakes. “In all honesty, if we get an additional 500, 1,000, an additional 20,000 (doses), how many lives have we saved? How much money, how many hospitalizations? We’ve got to try anything and everything that’s available to us.”
The vehicle purchases, by date, include:
- Two F-150s, purchased from Thornhill Ford Lincoln, in Chapmanville, on June 8, priced at $72,160 and $68,630.
- One Silverado, from the Thornhill Superstore, in Chapmanville, purchased June 12 for $66,397, with a $3,000 rebate.
- One F-150 from Moses Ford, in St. Albans, purchased June 17 at a cost of $81,433.
- One Silverado and one Sierra, purchased June 29 from Weimer Chevrolet Buick, in Moorefield. The Silverado cost $62,693, with a $2,000 rebate, and the Sierra cost $67,714, with a $3,000 rebate.
The Governor’s Office declined to provide invoices for purchases of firearms, citing a privacy provision in state FOIA law, 29B-1-4(a)-2, a provision normally applied to exclude the release of personnel files or medical records.
The code citation, part of a list of information exempt from the FOIA law, states: “Information of a personal nature, such as that kept in personnel, medical or similar files, if the public disclosure thereof would constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy.”
Justice is giving away five rifles and five shotguns each week as sweepstakes prizes.
Wally Thornhill, owner of the Thornhill dealerships, gave the maximum $5,600 election year contribution to Justice’s reelection campaign in 2020, while members of the Moses family gave a total of $19,600, according to campaign financial disclosures.
In the 2020 campaign, Justice received a total of $35,800 in campaign contributions from people identifying themselves as being in the automotive industry, according to the Vote Smart website.
State auto dealers and their families also made up the bulk of contributors at a campaign fundraiser Justice hosted at Appalachian Power Park on Sept. 16, 2020, according to financial disclosures.
That included 21 dealerships, including representatives of the Bill Cole Automotive Group.
Cole, a major state Republican fundraiser, former Senate president and Republican candidate for governor, made a maximum general election cycle contribution of $2,800 at that event, as did five family members, according to the campaign disclosure.
The event raised $145,500 for the Justice campaign.
Cole also was active in the public relations campaign Justice staged during the 2021 regular session of the Legislature in an attempt to build support for his proposal to cut state income taxes and shift the tax burden to sales and other consumption taxes. The proposal died on a 100-0 unanimous vote in the House of Delegates.
On Wednesday, Cole joined Justice in presenting a $1 million sweepstakes check to Heather Coburn, of Princeton, a longtime employee of the Bill Cole Auto Mall in Bluefield. The check presentation ceremony took place at the dealership.