Rahall foe: Blankenship just ‘a retired person’

October 19, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

The Daily Mail picked up on an interesting development the other day, in a story that notes a recent contribution by former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to the campaign of Republican Rick Snuffer, who is trying to unseat Southern West Virginia’s longtime Democratic congressman, Rep. Nick J. Rahall.

As the election nears, and more campaign finance reports eventually are made public, it will be interesting to see if Blankenship resumes his public political spending, which has not been much in evidence since his “retirement” from Massey after the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster and prior to the Alpha Natural Resources buyout of Massey. Readers know well about Blankenship’s previous political spending, such as his $3 million effort to get Warren McGraw off the West Virginia Supreme Court before a crucial Massey appeal was heard.

It’s possible that Blankenship will pump money into this year’s campaigns through third-party “dark money” groups, making it more difficult for the public to learn who is funding certain candidates and opposing others. Just this week in West Virginia, we’ve seen a shadowy group founded with Big Tobacco money dump $1.6 million on an ad buy to try to defeat Attorney General Darrell McGraw (who, oddly enough, was involved in lawsuits against the tobacco industry).

But back to this Daily Mail story about the Rahall-Snuffer race.  For reasons that are not clear to me, the story is framed to focus on how TV viewers in the Charleston area — who aren’t in the state’s 3rd congressional district — are seeing ads about that district’s election:

Although they can’t vote in the race for 3rd Congressional District, Kanawha Valley residents have heard a lot about Rep. Nick Rahall and Republican Rick Snuffer lately.

Rahall, the incumbent Democrat, and Snuffer have inundated Charleston airwaves with a series of ads in recent weeks. Third District voters are also served by Charleston’s media market.

Snuffer’s campaign began airing ads over a month ago, portraying Snuffer as a blue-collar “independent” who would work to reverse many of President Barack Obama’s policies.

Rahall, who has represented southern West Virginia in Congress since 1977, fired back with a host of ads of his own, pointing out the so-called independent took donations from Republican leaders in Congress.

And that’s where Blankenship comes in:

While Snuffer has said he’s a friend of the coal industry, Rahall’s ads have pointed out Snuffer has taken campaign donations from former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

Now, there’s really no description in the story of Blankenship, and certainly no mention of anything like, well, the deaths of 29 miners at one of Blankenship’s mines just two years ago. But the story goes on to describe Snuffer’s plans for new campaign ads critical of Rahall:

In a phone interview Wednesday, Snuffer said he would soon launch a new ad attacking Rahall’s record.

The ads feature an interview Rahall gave some time ago with former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann in which Rahall says Obama will be an agent of change for the country. That’s followed by coal miners saying the “change” he was referring to was Obama’s so-called “War on Coal.”

“After you’ve been attacked for six weeks, you get a little more aggressive,” Snuffer said. “Our next ad uses only his words and the coal miners who he’s trying to put out of work.”

The ad portraying Snuffer as a friend of the coal industry also comes as new campaign filings show Snuffer’s campaign recently received a $2,500 donation from Blankenship.

Rahall’s original ad referring to Blankenship’s donations to Snuffer were actually referring to a $1,000 donation Snuffer received from the Massey political action committee when he ran for the state House of Delegates in 2010.

The new donation will likely give fuel to the Rahall campaign’s attack.

Actually, if you look more closely at Snuffer’s quarterly report to the Federal Elections Commission, what you see is a $5,000 donation for the general election, received by the campaign on July 24. Then, a month later, on Aug. 23, a subtraction of $2,500 of Blankenship’s money from the general election fund and a contribution of $2,500 to the primary election fund. The contributions list Blankenship’s address as a P.O. Box in Belfry, Ky., though Blankenship is living in Johnson City, Tenn., and appears to be registered to vote there.

Individuals can give no more than $2,500 to any candidate during any particular primary or general election, and FEC rules appear to stipulate that, if a contributor exceeds the limit for an election, candidate committees can “seek the contributor’s re-designation of the excessive portion for a different election for which the contributor has not yet exceeded limits.”

And then, there’s this other interesting thing in the Daily Mail story:

Snuffer said Wednesday he didn’t solicit the money from Blankenship this year but said he would keep the contribution. Snuffer compared keeping the donation to Rahall keeping donations from groups that support national Democratic policies.

“He’s has kept the money he’s gotten from people who support Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama and people who destroy West Virginia jobs,” Snuffer said. “This is a retired person who would like to see the congressman replaced because he is trying to re-elect Barack Obama, who is trying to destroy the West Virginia coal industry.”

Now, there’s nothing at all in Daily Mail reporter Jared Hunt’s story to remind readers that all of this “war on coal” stuff is a bunch of nonsense, and that experts from all across the board (see here, here and here, just for example) say coal’s current decline has far more to do with low natural gas prices, declining reserves and competition from other coal basins than any Obama administration regulations. Of course, it’s hard to feel to sorry for Rep. Rahall in this regard, given that he’s gone along with the coal industry’s public relations campaign on this, turning his back on the facts and any effort to deal with the real issues facing the coal industry and coalfield communities (see here, here and here).

But gosh, if you’re going to let Rick Snuffer describe in detail a political ad he hasn’t even started running yet, wouldn’t it make sense to give readers even a few words that describe what Rahall thinks taking money from Don Blankenship says about Snuffer? Why not include even a little bit of the Rahall ad’s narrative:

Whose side is Rick Snuffer on? Only six months after a deadly explosion at a mine owned by a company with numerous safety violations, he still took a large campaign contribution from them. When Rick Snuffer took campaign money from Don Blankenship and his Massey coal company, he turned his back on every coal mining family in West Virginia.

I guess as far as the Daily Mail is concerned, Don Blankenship is just some retired guy …

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