Don Blankenship is notorious in West Virginia, and he’s gained increased recognition nationally following the deadly explosion at his company’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, WV, the worst U.S. coal disaster in 40 years. As the chairman and CEO of Massey Energy, Blankenship is an anti-regulatory, science-denying, unrepentant right-wing capitalist coal baron. Just as significantly, he wields tremendous political power in West Virginia and even bought a state Supreme Court seat in 2004. TP has the story of how the dirty Don wields his power.
As Ian Millhiser explained last year:
When West Virginia coal overlord Don Blankenship’s company lost a $50 million verdict to one of its competitors, Blankenship set out to buy a judge. Rather than appeal his case to a fair tribunal, Blankenship spent $3 million to elect a friendly lawyer to the West Virginia Supreme Court, even running ads accusing the lawyer’s opponent of voting to free an incarcerated child rapist, and of allowing that rapist to work in a public school. Once elected by a Blankenship-funded campaign, the newly-minted justice cast the deciding vote overturning the verdict against Blankenship’s company.
In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that justice is not for sale, ruling that Blankenship’s judge, Brent Benjamin, should have recused himself because the conflict of interest was so “extreme.” (Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas dissented.)
Blankenship is now trying to extend his control of the federal government by getting involved in West Virginia’s congressional elections, via Republican candidates Spike Maynard and David McKinley. As the AP reported on Sunday:
Blankenship contributed $4,800 to Elliott “Spike” Maynard, the Democrat-turned-Republican running in the 3rd U.S. House District, during the three-month reporting period that ended June 30. David McKinley, the GOP’s 1st District nominee, received $2,400 from Blankenship. [...]
Upper Big Branch, located in the 3rd District, is likely to play a role in the Rahall-Maynard contest. Around $21,000 of Maynard’s money during the quarter came from Massey employees, Blankenship’s family and former political operatives including [Greg] Thomas. All told, around one-third of Maynard’s individual contributions came from the energy sector. That amount includes $15,200 from 19 executives or employees of International Coal Group.
Maynard’s relationship with Blankenship is especially tight. In 2006, when Maynard was chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and Massey Energy had millions of dollars of cases pending before the court, Maynard and Blankenship went on an expensive vacation in the French Riviera together. A fellow justice said he was “outraged” by Maynard’s impropriety. Later that year, Maynard voted with the majority in favor of Massey. Watch an ABC News report on their relationship here. (When ABC tried to talk to Blankenship for the story, he said, “If you’re going to start taking pictures of me, you’re liable to get shot,” and tried to tear off the camera’s viewfinder.)
McKinley has hired Greg Thomas to assist his campaign. Previously, Thomas “helped oversee that 2004 spending and other Blankenship-funded political campaigns” and has been described as the former “chief political consultant” for Blankenship. In the past, Thomas aided Maynard’s Supreme Court re-election bid.
This Think Progress cross-post is by Amanda Turkel.