Coal Tattoo

There’s a really important story by the great John Cheves in today’s Lexington Herald-Leader. Here’s the lead:

Several major coal companies hope to use newly loosened campaign-finance laws to pool their money and defeat Democratic congressional candidates they consider “anti-coal,” including U.S. Senate nominee Jack Conway and U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler in Kentucky.

The story notes coal operators are also looking to funnel corporate money to try to help Republican Spike Maynard defeat longtime Democratic Rep. Nick J. Rahall in West Virginia’s 3rd congressional district.

Which coal companies are behind these effort? Gosh, it’s International Coal Group, Massey Energy, Alliance Resource Partners and Natural Resource Partners. Cheeves cites a letter written to other coal companies by ICG general counsel Roger Nicholson:

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,” wrote Roger Nicholson, senior vice president and general counsel at International Coal Group of Scott Depot, W.Va., in an undated letter he sent to other coal companies.

“A number of coal industry representatives recently have been considering developing a 527 entity with the purpose of attempting to defeat anti-coal incumbents in select races, as well as elect pro-coal candidates running for certain open seats,” Nicholson wrote. “We’re requesting your consideration as to whether your company would be willing to meet to discuss a significant commitment to such an effort.”

Cheves explains:

The companies hope to create a politically active nonprofit under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, so they won’t have to publicly disclose their activities — such as advertising — until they file a tax return next year, long after the Nov. 2 election.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last winter that corporations and labor unions may pour unlimited funds into such efforts to influence elections.

The Senate has not moved to pass some form of campaign finance reporting that might help the public sort out who is spending what on the heels of this ruling, in part because of Republicans blocking the bill, but also because of opposition from organized labor.

The Herald-Leader story also pointed out, quoting mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard:

Several of those companies [in the fund-raising effort] have been involved in recent mine disasters that led to congressional scrutiny of their safety problems. International Coal Group owns the Sago mine in West Virginia where 12 miners died in 2006. Massey owns the Upper Big Branch mine, also in West Virginia, where 29 miners died in April. Two miners died in April in a Western Kentucky mine owned by an Alliance Resource subsidiary.

“Between them, ICG and Massey have had 41 miners killed in just two disasters,” Oppegard said. “It’s disturbing to see companies that don’t have strong safety records try to defeat politicians, like Ben Chandler, who have fought for stronger mine safety.”