This article originally provided by The Herald-Dispatch

June 19, 2006

Coal chief, gambling spend big in primary

The Associated Press

CHARLESTON -- Racetrack executives rivaled Massey Energy Co. chief Don Blankenship and other special interests in lavishing campaign cash on legislative candidates running in the primary election, the latest financial filings show.

Donors linked to three of the state's four tracks, and others involved in gambling, together made more than 360 contributions that totaled $106,389, according to the latest reports posted by the Secretary of State's office.

These contributors gave to at least 72 candidates, from both parties and for the House as well as the Senate. More than 280 candidates ran on May 9. All 100 House seats are on the ballot this year, as are 17 of 34 Senate seats.

All told, candidates with posted reports received $3.7 million from all donors during the primary season. Contributors gave them
$1.1 million of that total during the latest reporting period, which spanned April 22 to June 2.

When counting loans to their own campaigns, the candidates amassed a total of $4.6 million. Primary season spending exceeded $3 million.

Blankenship, the chairman, president and CEO of Massey, emerged as the largest single contributor to legislative candidates. Blankenship gave $1,000 each to at least 46 candidates, the posted reports show.

A multimillionaire, Blankenship has vowed to target incumbent lawmakers in the Democrat-dominated Legislature over such issues as abortion, gay marriage and the food tax. A frequent GOP donor, Blankenship gave to both Republican incumbents and challengers during the primary. He also gave to at least two Democrats: Delegate Eustace Frederick of Mercer County and Senate candidate Greg Tucker of Nicholas County. Frederick won his primary, while Tucker fell to incumbent Sen. Randy White, D-Webster.

For at least six GOP candidates, Blankenship was their sole source of campaign cash. But at least one Republican candidate turned him down.

Tommy Smirl, running for the House in the 16th District, noted on his post-primary report that Blankenship had sent him $1,000.

"Check was returned to Mr. Blankenship undeposited with 'thanks but no thanks' letter attached," said the report from Smirl, son of retired veteran lawmaker Jody Smirl, R-Cabell.

Smirl, a Huntington businessman, won the nomination in his primary race.

And while Blankenship has his issues, the state's racetracks seek legislation allowing them to host casino table games. Bills to allow local votes on the question in racetrack counties have failed the last two sessions.

Among the racetrack interests who gave during the primary:

  • Jeremy Jacobs, chairman and CEO of Wheeling Island Gaming Inc. parent Delaware North Cos. Jacobs also owns the National Hockey League's Boston Bruins. He and his family members gave $30,000 among 54 candidates.
  • The Friends of the Track Political Action Committee gave $25,000 to 55 candidates.
  • MTR Gaming Group Inc. Chief Executive Ted Arneault spread out $9,444 among 54 candidates. MTR owns Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort in Chester.
  • Tri-State Race Track & Gaming Center co-owner Bernard Hartman distributed $9,000 among 21 candidates.
  • Another co-owner of the Cross Lanes track, Herbert Tyner, gave 21 candidates a total of $8,750.
  • Former MTR board director Robert Ruben and his law partner, Louis M. Aronson, together gave $7,320 to 49 candidates. The pair are named partners in a Maryland law firm that boasts of expertise in the casino and "racino" business.
  • MTR Executive Vice President Robert Blatt gave 48 candidates a total of $6,694.

The biggest beneficiary from such interests was greyhound breeder Mike Green. The Raleigh County Democrat received more than $8,000 for his state Senate race, in which he bested Delegate Sally Susman and former Sen. Bill Wooton for the nomination.

That race proved the most expensive of the primary, with the three Democrats together spending more than $613,000. Green spent $228,619 of that total while Susman spent slightly more, $237,394.

On a per-candidate basis, the Democratic primary in the two-seat Third District was the most expensive House race. Pete Cuffaro spent the most, $37,963, only to lose. Nominees Orphy Klempa and Tal Hutchins spent $28,547 and $7,264, respectively.

Other major donors during the primary season include LAWPAC, the state trial lawyers PAC, which gave at least $35,000 to 45 candidates. The PAC for State Farm insurance agents, meanwhile, gave at least $26,500 to 60 candidates.

Voter-Owned Elections

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