West Virginia GOP uses ‘secret group’ to halt Don Blankenship’s surging Senate campaign

Republicans pretend to care about toxic waste in hypocritical ad attacking the ex-con coal baron

Screen shot of ad attacking Don Blankenship in WV GOP Senate primary race. Credit: Mountain Families PAC
Screen shot of ad attacking Don Blankenship in WV GOP Senate primary race. Credit: Mountain Families PAC

Republicans are so desperate to defeat an ex-con coal baron in the GOP’s West Virginia Senate primary they are even running ads pretending to care about toxic coal waste to defeat him.

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is seeing a surge in popularity — even though he’s still on probation after serving one year in federal prison for conspiring to violate mine safety standards.

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His popularity, however, is starting to worry top Republicans. The GOP fear the self-financed ex-convict is too toxic to win the November general election against Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who is considered vulnerable because President Trump won the state by 40 percent in 2016.

So, in response, the normally pro-pollution GOP has begun running ads pretending to care about the environment to attack Blankenship.

As Politico reported on Sunday, the “Republican establishment has launched an emergency intervention,” and created a “secret” front group called “Mountain Families PAC” to run ads against him.

But what makes this effort so ironic is that while the national GOP and Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt have been working overtime to undo federal rules protecting communities from toxic coal ash, the front group is running ads attacking Blankenship for releasing toxic coal sludge.

“Who will clean up Washington? Not convicted criminal Don Blankenship,” the narrator says without a trace of irony.

And in a truly Orwellian turn, Blankenship has launched a fact-checking website — www.factcheckwv.com — to attack his opponents and try to clear his name.

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But “it buries one fact — that it’s run by U.S. Senate candidate Don Blankenship’s campaign,” as the Charleston Gazette-Mail points out. You have to scroll far down the front page, through more than a half dozen “fact checks,” before you see a tiny box explaining that the site is “Paid for by Don Blankenship for U.S. Senate.”

Among the many fact checks that appear on the website is one question, which asks, “Is Don Blankenship responsible for the UBB [Upper Big Branch] disaster?” It rates this question as “false.”

In reality, Blankenship was the CEO of the coal mine where the 2010 disaster killed 29 miners. In the lead up to the disaster, Blankenship was obsessed with mine output: “He was sent production updates from Massey mines every 30 minutes,” the New York Times reported in 2015. To keep production up, he ordered the company to delay or stop various safety improvements in 2008.

Ultimately, he was convicted of conspiring to violate mine safety standards, spent a year in federal prison, and is still on probation.

Right now, the race for the Republican nomination for Senator appears too close to call. But if Blankenship pulls it out, then you can expect the November general election, in which he’d most likely face Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), to become even nastier and more Orwellian.