CHARLESTON — A Democrat running for governor said Tuesday he is selling off his stake in a company that owns several newspapers in West Virginia.
Ben Salango, also an attorney and Kanawha County commissioner, said he is in the process of selling his shares in HD Media to other investors in the company. He said he started talking to other investors about divesting himself from the company before he entered the race. HD Media owns the Charleston Gazette-Mail, The Herald-Dispatch, the Coal Valley News, The Logan Banner, the Putnam Herald, The Independent Herald, The Wayne County News and Williamson Daily News.
Maintaining his ownership, he said, wouldn’t be fair to journalists at HD Media outlets, the public or other candidates opposing him in the race.
“When I and a group of other investors bought the Charleston Gazette-Mail out of bankruptcy, it was to save jobs and preserve the integrity of local journalism,” he said.
On Thursday, Salango filed paperwork to begin a gubernatorial bid and hosted a launch event where he offered several lines of criticism against incumbent Gov. Jim Justice.
The state Republican Party issued a news release the next day demanding that HD Media outlets disclose Salango’s ownership stake in the papers.
The newspapers’ coverage of Salango’s announcement included such a disclosure.
Justice spokesman Richard Cullen invoked Salango’s ownership Saturday on Justice’s behalf in response to inquiries by the Gazette-Mail and ProPublica about some of Justice’s business activities.
“Over the past several months, the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s constant attack on me has been bewildering, but now we know why: One of its substantial owners, a trial lawyer, was gearing up to run against me for the office of governor of this great state,” he said.
Salango is not a “substantial” owner. He owns less than 5% of the company, according to a disclosure the Kanawha County Commission made to the West Virginia Ethics Commission in order to continue purchasing legal ads from the Gazette-Mail.
He referred to himself as a “minority investor” Tuesday and confirmed the figure presented in the ethics filing.
After the Gazette-Mail declared bankruptcy, HD Media became the successful bidder to purchase the newspaper in March 2018 for a price just under $11.5 million.
The company is comprised of a group of local investors organized under Doug Reynolds, managing partner of HD Media. Reynolds served in the House of Delegates as a Democrat before an unsuccessful run for state attorney general in 2016.
Staff writer Ken Ward Jr. contributed to this report. Reach Jake Zuckerman at email@example.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.