Yesterday, ThinkProgress reported on coal baron Don Blankenship’s foray into the 2010 congressional elections in West Virginia, where he has contributed thousands of dollars to help elect coal-friendly Republicans. One of the candidates, Spike Maynard, previously served as chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and vacationed with Blankenship on the French Riviera while his company, Massey Energy, had millions of dollars in cases pending before Maynard’s court.
But Blankenship isn’t the only one with chips in the game. The Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky reports that several coal executives, including Blankenship, are pooling their money to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision loosening corporate campaign finance laws by forming a 527 group to help elect coal-friendly Republicans. Why a 527? Because according to the IRS, they can hide their activities until “next year, long after the Nov. 2 election.” From the report:
“With the recent Supreme Court ruling, we are in a position to be able to take corporate positions that were not previously available in allowing our voices to be heard,” wrote Roger Nicholson, senior vice president and general counsel at International Coal Group of Scott Depot, W.Va., in an undated letter he sent to other coal companies. […]
“A number of coal industry representatives recently have been considering developing a 527 entity with the purpose of attempting to defeat anti-coal incumbents in select races, as well as elect pro-coal candidates running for certain open seats,” Nicholson wrote. “We’re requesting your consideration as to whether your company would be willing to meet to discuss a significant commitment to such an effort.”
Nicholson listed three races “of interest”: Conway against Republican Rand Paul for Kentucky’s open Senate seat; Chandler against Republican Garland “Andy” Barr in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District; and Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall against Republican Elliott “Spike” Maynard in West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District.
According to Nicholson, three other companies — Alliance Resource Partners, Natural Resource Partners, and Blankenship’s Massey Energy — “have already had some theoretical discussions about such an effort and would like to proceed in developing an action plan.” By combining their efforts and forming a 527, these companies could potentially spend millions of dollars to influence the West Virginia races.
Unfortunately, this political intervention by the dirty coal industry may come at the public’s expense. After all, for years, these companies have been lobbying for looser regulations. The results have been tragedies at coal mines, such as the 2006 Sago Mine explosion that killed 12 people; the mine was owned by Nicholson’s International Coal Group and had been cited for 276 safety violations in 2004 and 2005. More recently, an explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 people. The Mine Safety and Health Administration had cited Upper Big Branch for more than 3,000 violations — 638 since 2009. In April, two miners died at an Alliance Resources Partners mine that ranked “seventh in the U.S. by the number of ‘significant and substantial‘ violations accrued since January 2009.”
Ironically, one of the candidates this new 527 wants to back — Rand Paul — was hit by his primary opponent for once acknowledging that coal “is a very dirty form of energy.”