This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

October 15, 2004

Brent Benjamin raking in heaviest contributions

By Paul J. Nyden
Staff writer

Coal company executives and lobbyists have long been major contributors to state political candidates. This year, coal is making major contributions again.

But today, most coal contributions are coming from Donald L. Blankenship and other Massey Energy executives, a handful of mine supply companies and the three Addington brothers.

Based in Kentucky, Larry, Robert and Bruce Addington have owned several coal companies, including Appalachian Fuels, Addington Enterprises Inc., Seven Peaks Mining and Horizon Natural Resources. The heaviest coal contributions are flowing into the coffers of Republican Brent Benjamin, who is running against Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw for a seat on the state's highest court.

Blankenship, Massey's president, chairman and CEO, has written three different letters soliciting money for Benjamin.

Massey Energy may soon appeal to the state Supreme Court, asking it to review a $50 million verdict Hugh Caperton won in August 2002 in Boone Circuit Court stating that Massey illegally forced his coal companies out of business in Virginia. With interest, the verdict is now worth about $60 million.

This fall, donations from Massey, the Addingtons and coal supply company executives are also showing up for many Republicans in legislative races throughout the state.

Executives and political action committees from other coal companies - such as Arch Coal, Consol, Peabody Coal and the West Virginia Coal Association - have been making a small handful of contributions by comparison.

And in this fall's legislative contests, Massey and the Addingtons have donated tens of thousands of dollars to candidates who seem to have little, or no, chance of winning.

For example, Stephen L. Weaver, a Republican from Weston, is running against Senate President Pro Tempore William R. Sharpe Jr., D-Lewis. Sharpe was first elected to the state Senate in 1960.

Weaver reported receiving $7,650 in new contributions in his latest report filed with the secretary of state's office.

Of this total, $7,000 came from coal contributors, including $1,000 each from Blankenship; S.R. Smith, president of Mount Hope-based Raleigh Mine and Industrial Supply; Larry Addington of Catlettsburg, Ky.; and Chris Cline, president of Cline Resources in Beckley.

Sharpe said coal companies have often contributed to his campaigns and continue to do to. "But today, there is a split in the Coal Association," he said.

J. B. Parker, a political consultant who works out of Charleston and Weston, said the coal industry is "operating as a 527 basically, but with no accountability," referring to so-called "527 groups" that can raise unlimited money for issue advertising, but cannot officially support any candidate.

"They may not be acting in concert on a daily basis, but it is a concerted effort from all the moneyed interests in the state to get rid of every Democrat they can," said Parker. "They are going to lose friends in the Democratic Party."

Perhaps the best-known 527 group in a West Virginia state election this year is And For the Sake of the Kids, a group opposing the re-election of Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw. That group has already spent more than $1 million on television ads attacking McGraw.

- advertisement- According to records released Thursday, the group has spent about $2.4 million on advertisements. Blankenship has contributed about $1.7 million to the group.

Other pre-general election campaign finance reports show the following:

Stephen L. Hall, a Huntington Republican, is running against Senate Education Chairman Robert H. Plymale, D-Cabell. Plymale has worked for James "Buck" Harless, a major coal operator and timber owner based in Mingo County. Of the $9,800 in contributions Hall reported, $9,500 came from coal and mine supply company executives, including $1,000 each from Blankenship and Smith. Hall also got $1,000 apiece from Charles A. Nelson and William H. Nelson III, who head Nelson Brothers, a Birmingham, Ala., company that sells explosives and other chemicals to coal operators.

Jack Fincham is running against Sen. Billy Wayne Bailey, D-Wyoming. Of Fincham's $8,450 in new contributions, $8,000 came from coal interests, including $1,000 each from Blankenship, Smith, Cline and Larry Addington.

David Sypolt is challenging Sen. Jon Blair Hunter, D-Monongalia. At least $6,350 of the $9,120 in contributions Sypolt recently reported came from coal, including $1,000 each from Blankenship and Smith. West Virginians For Coal, a West Virginia Coal Association political action committee, gave Sypolt $350.

Former Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, is running against Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson. Of the $15,200 in recent contributions Yoder reported, at least $11,000 come from coal sources, including $1,000 each from Blankenship, Smith, Cline, two Nelson brothers and three Addington brothers.

Delegate Don Caruth, R-Mercer, is running for a seat now held by Sen. Anita Skeens Caldwell, D-Mercer. Of the $32,100 in recent contributions Caruth reported, $12,000 come from coal companies, including $1,000 each from: Blankenship, Smith, Cline, the two Nelson brothers and three Addington brothers. Eddie Hurley, who owns Little Boyd Coal Co. in Phelps, Ky., and his wife Barbara also contributed $1,000 each to Caruth.

In Kanawha County, coal money is also going to Republicans in two Senate races.

Senate Minority Leader Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, has already raised more than $180,000 in his re-election race against former state Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman. Sprouse collected many more coal contributions than lesser-known Republican challengers in other Senate districts. But Sprouse also received $1,000 donations from Blankenship, Cline and the three Addington brothers, as well as four $625 donations from Nelson Brothers officers.

Delegate Rusty Webb, R-Kanawha, is running against Delegate Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, for the seat vacated by Sen. Larry Rowe. Webb received at least $8,000 of his recently reported $23,900 in donations from coal, including $1,000 checks from Smith, Cline, the two Nelson Brothers officers and three Addington brothers. Webb also received several thousands in contributions from mine supply companies.

Webb is also backed by several labor organizations, including local laborers' councils, the United Mine Workers and West Virginia Education Association. But the biggest coal contributions are being poured into the race against Warren McGraw.

According to a new analysis released by the West Virginia People's Election Reform Coalition, special interests have spent more than $1.6 million trying to influence that race in direct campaign contributions.

Julie Archer, a research analyst for PERC, said coal and other business interests gave almost nothing to Benjamin in his Republican primary. But today, they are heavily financing his general election campaign. McGraw's financial strength remains with lawyers.

Coal-related donors gave Benjamin 59 percent of all contributions PERC was able to identify on his recently filed pre-general election report. Those coal donations totaled at least $155,200, including $30,700 from Massey executives and their spouses.

Benjamin reported raising a total of $341,204. But his report did not identify the occupation of dozens of contributors who gave $250 or more, as required by state law.

Corporate lawyers and health-care executives were the second and third largest donors to Benjamin's campaign, accounting for 11 percent and 9 percent of identified contributions, respectively.

The PERC analysis found McGraw drew very heavily from consumer and other lawyers in both the primary and general elections.

Lawyers gave McGraw 73 percent of all the identified donations listed in his most recent report, including 40 percent from consumer and trial lawyers, 32 percent form other lawyers and 1 percent from corporate lawyers, according to PERC.

To date, McGraw has received $16,500 from health-care interests and $2,500 from coal companies, together totaling 3 percent of his contributions.

To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.

Voter-Owned Elections

Citizens for Clean Elections P.O. Box 6753 Huntington, WV 25773-6753 304-522-0246