In the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited spending on elections by unions and companies, coal giants are looking to form a group to pump cash into state races. Among the potential members is Massey Energy, the coal company notorious for the worst mining disaster in recent history when 29 miners were killed in April at its Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.
The Kentucky Herald-Leader obtained an undated letter from Roger Nicholson, senior vice president and general counsel at International Coal Group to other coal giants in which he wrote, "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."
The International Coal Group owned the West Virginia Sago mine, where 12 miners died in 2006.
The coal companies are looking to form a 527 organization through which, under current law, they can potentially spend millions of dollars on election advertising and would not have to disclose their spending until after the election, unless the embattled DISCLOSE Act passes the Senate. The DISCLOSE Act would make it easy for data on groups' donations and backers to be quickly and easily released to the public.
The races "of interest" Nicholson identified in his letter as potential targets for defeat are 'anti-coal' Democrats:
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.
Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, who likely vies with Tony Hayward as one of the most hated business executives, has a history of trying to influence politics and elections. The Daily Beast notes:
In 2004 he spent $3 million in advertising against a State Supreme Court Justice's re-election, drawing intense scrutiny after the judge who replaced him ruled in favor of throwing out a $50 million verdict against Massey. Four years later, Blankenship was photographed on the French Riviera with another State Supreme Court Justice, Elliott "Spike" Maynard, raising further ethics questions.
HuffPost's Dan Froomkin recently reported on Blankenship's National Press Club appearance:
"[Blankenship], widely considered to be the most arrogant and dangerous man in a dangerous and dying industry, lectured the assembled throng about global poverty, preventable disease, the national debt, highway deaths, physics, the relationship between facts and happiness -- and oh, yes, the need for the federal government to get off his back."
ICG's Nicholson defended his letter in a statement, attempting to clarify that the group's opposition to candidates is just about environmental regulation, not mine safety rules. With Republicans blocking current safety reform efforts and Blankenship's repeated public attempts to blame government regulation for mining problems, it's hard to imagine that this group wouldn't be involved in attempting to influence mine safety regulations as well.