This article originally provided by The Daily Mail

January 9, 2006

Dave Peyton

Coal companies are big political donors

WITH murmurings of official state investigations and possible new laws for coal companies as a result of last week's mine disaster in Upshur County, it might be instructive to know how involved the coal industry has been in state elections in recent years.

It's not that coal companies would place untoward pressure on the state's elected officials when talk of investigations and new laws arise. Heaven forbid.

Besides, we know that our elected officials always strive to do the right thing regardless of special interests.

But it may be useful to know just how much money the coal industry has poured into state political campaigns, if for no other reason than to make sure the "right people" who do the "right thing" are elected to office.

The People's Election Reform Coalition has studied coal industry contributions to state political campaigns from 1996 to 2004.

The conclusion? Since 1996, coal interests have contributed more than $4 million to candidates for governor, the state Supreme Court and the West Virginia Legislature.

"Over the past five election cycles, the industry has contributed over $2 million to gubernatorial campaigns and inaugurals, $1.5 million to legislative races and $529,332 to Supreme Court candidates," the report says.

The 2004 election was a record-setter for the coal industry. Gov. Joe Manchin received $571,214 from coal interests for his campaign and $174,500 for his inaugural.

State Senate candidates received $223,849, while House of Delegates candidates received $250,574.

West Virginians for Coal, the West Virginia Coal Association's political action committee, contributed more money than any other coal industry donor.

It made 143 contributions to 83 candidates with contributions totaling $46,450. Other big coal givers included Arch Coal PAC, William T. Bright of Bright Energy, Don Blankenship of Massey Energy and James "Buck" Harless.

Former Gov. Cecil Underwood has received the most money from the coal industry. He received $895,946 from coal interested from 1996 to 2000 for his successful campaign in 1996 and his unsuccessful campaign in 2000, according to the report.

But Manchin holds the record for getting the most money from the coal industry in a single election.

In 2004, Manchin received 12 percent of all contributions to his campaign from coal interests, the report says. Additionally, Manchin raised $1.3 million for his inaugural, including $174,500 from various coal and mining equipment companies as well as individuals affiliated with the industry.

"While donors to political campaigns take different approaches to giving, the objective is usually the same -- to gain access to elected officials and influence public policy," the report says.

"This point is illustrated by the fact that most campaign contributions come from relatively few donors. In most elections, less than 1 percent of all voting age West Virginians give to political campaigns. PERC-WV estimates that the nearly $1.7 million the coal industry contributed to campaigns in 2004 came from approximately 800 donors."

Does all of this make these contributions to candidates for elective office wrong or illegal? No.

But should the electorate keep all of this in mind as they watch what happens to proposed investigations into the state's coal industry?


Peyton may be reached at


Voter-Owned Elections

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