Updated: May 4
Congratulations to Mr. Cowger for his contributions to this community and our state!
News Release - Charleston Gazette-Mail
April 30, 2022
"From Feb. 10, 2020, to May 11, 2021, Republican candidates and committees across West Virginia paid Cowger’s ad agency $31,289.89, according to campaign finance filings."
CHARLESTON - Behind the graphic online depiction of a lawmaker with his hands bloodied churns a political machine revving at full bore with a primary election looming.
A conservative group’s Facebook posts target political enemies, taking aim at a trio of Republican candidates for the state Senate. An online site purporting to be “West Virginia’s Source for State and Local News” showcases hit pieces with a familiar theme, a Republican tilting left, particularly regarding gays.
One headline declares a candidate sponsored a bill to “let men in girls’ restrooms” and falsely claims the Charleston Gazette-Mail “colluded with” that candidate to remove from the newspaper’s website a “controversial” response to a questionnaire. The story was authored by Caiden Cowger, 23, of Buckhannon, who leads both the conservative group and the so-called news site.
From Feb. 10, 2020, to May 11, 2021, Republican candidates and committees across West Virginia paid Cowger’s ad agency $31,289.89, according to campaign finance filings.
His leading political clients included the West Virginia Republican Senate Committee, which paid Cowger Creative $6,300 last year, mostly for “web based services.” No records of payments to Cowger this year had appeared in state filings at the time of this writing. The GOP group, a state political party or caucus campaign committee, describes itself online as “committed to moving our state in the right direction by adopting conservative policies that promote job creation and family values.”
Candidates deemed as aligned with that approach get the committee’s “seal of approval.” Primary opponents of two candidates targeted in the Family Policy Council’s Facebook posts — Mick Bates of Beckley and Joshua Higginbotham of Kanawha County — got the Republican committee’s backing.
Posts targeting Higginbotham along with links to stories from Cowger’s so-called news site appear on the Facebook page of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, which bills itself as the “Mountain State’s leading conservative policy group championing social issues.” Cowger is the group’s president.
A crudely constructed graphic posted April 16 shows a candidate with his face cupped in one bloody hand while clutching surgical scissors in the other. A headline declares in all capitals that he “voted to make abortion a constitutional right.” The graphic features a reminder of the primary date, May 10.
Designated for tax purposes as a nonprofit civil rights, social action and advocacy group, the council describes itself in tax records as “a servant organization that advocates for policies that embrace the sanctity of human life, enrich marriages, and the safeguard of religious freedom.”
How the council goes about its advocacy is a point of contention among the group’s political foes.
Other graphics on the council’s Facebook page separately feature Higginbotham and Bates against the backdrop of a boy smearing lipstick on his face, accompanied by an all-caps headline citing their sponsorship of the Fairness Act, a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public places. Versions of the bill have been introduced, but never passed, in the Legislature every year since 1993.
Jack Jarvis, a spokesman for Fairness West Virginia, which advocates for the legislation, called the council’s depictions of the bill “complete misinformation.”
It’s a well-worn theme for Higginbotham, who last year became the first Republican in the Legislature to publicly announce he’s gay. The former delegate said he’s faced attacks from the council every year he’s campaigned, mostly over his support of the Fairness Act.
“My response is that I wish them the best of luck,” Higginbotham said. “And they should keep trying.”
On the eve of Good Friday, the Family Policy Council of West Virginia was doing just that. A Facebook post trumpeted the group’s primary endorsements. Six of the council’s chosen candidates were clients of Cowger’s in 2020. Each of the 10 state Senate candidates the council endorsed also got the seal of approval from the Republican Senate committee, Cowger’s lone state political customer last year, according to campaign records.