Coal and mining companies have been among the most prolific donors to Republican candidates for office in what they see as an existential fight for survival.
Presumptive GOP nominee for president Mitt Romney is capitalizing on King Coal's anguish with the Obama administration, hoping to gain an edge in key states.
This week a group of coal boosters from several producing states unveiled the COALition for Romney. And today the candidate will headline a rally at an Ohio coal mine along with Republican Sen. Rob Portman and GOP Senate nominee Josh Mandel.
Mandel, the current state treasurer who is challenging Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, already commands the coal industry's support. This year he has received at least $4,000 from Arch Coal Inc., $5,000 from the National Mining Association and $2,000 from CONSOL Energy Inc.
Amid the industry's donations -- which have doubled since the 2008 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics -- several top executives stand out for their contributions to help oust President Obama and block his environmental policies affecting coal.
Robert Murray of Murray Energy Corp.
When Romney visits Ohio today, he'll stop by Robert Murray's Century Mine in the Belmont County community of Beallsville. Local media outlets are reporting that Murray, head of Murray Energy Corp., will bus employees and their families to the rally.
Romney wasn't Murray's first choice to take on Obama. Last year, the well-known coal baron hosted a fundraiser in Wheeling, W.Va., for Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He did the same for Romney earlier this year as the former Massachusetts governor got closer to securing the GOP nomination.
The Center for Responsive Politics ranks Murray Energy among the top coal-mining-related donors; it has doled out almost $1 million to GOP candidates this election cycle. And this year the Federal Election Commission shows $10,000 from the company's political action committee in donations directly to the Romney campaign.
Earlier this month, Murray Energy executives blamed Obama when they closed another mine in Ohio (E&E Daily, Aug. 2). While competition from natural gas and other coal-producing regions is hurting Appalachian mines, Murray leaders said the president's policies alone have forced them to lay off workers.
"It's a human issue to me, this election," Murray told WTRF-TV in an interview. "I know the names of every one of our employees, some of their wives. Their lives have been destroyed by the policies of Barack Obama, the radical followers."
Murray denied responsibility in 2007 for the Crandall Canyon mine collapse in Utah, which killed six miners and three rescue workers. Earlier this year the company agreed to pay $500,000 in fines to resolve related criminal charges. And in July, the company pleaded guilty to Clean Water Act violations.
Bill Koch of Oxbow Corp.
While David and Charles Koch, the heads of Koch Industries Inc., are often seen as the face of the energy industry's opposition to Obama, their brother Oxbow Corp. CEO Bill Koch is also helping bankroll efforts for the president's ouster.
Oxbow has given the Restore Our Future PAC, which is supporting Romney, at least $2.75 million since September. Koch himself gave the PAC $250,000 last year.
Forbes estimated Bill Koch's net worth at about $4 billion. Based in south Florida, he is a chemical engineer and a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Koch is also known for being an art collector and a world-class sailor and for lengthy litigation with his brothers over business disputes.
Oxbow is involved in petroleum, natural gas and coal, among other economic sectors. The company owns the large Elk Creek coal mine in Colorado.
At a field hearing in Grand Junction, Colo., last year, the mine's environmental manager and one of Koch's employees, James Kiger, blasted the Obama administration's coal policies.
"In my 30-plus years of working in the Colorado coal mining industry, at both surface and underground mines," Kiger said, "I have never before seen such a concerted emphasis by numerous federal agencies to create additional head winds for the coal industry across such a broad spectrum of coal industry activities."
Bill Koch and Oxbow have given thousands of dollars to other Republican candidates, and some Democrats, too. The company gave Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) more than $3,000 in 2008. In April, Koch gave $2,500 to Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who is running for Senate.
Joseph Craft of Alliance Resource Partners LP
Worth more than $1 billion, Joseph Craft has been CEO of Tulsa, Okla.-based Alliance Resource Partners LP, one of the country's largest coal producers, for more than a decade. Alliance has mines in the Illinois basin and Appalachia, including Craft's native Kentucky.
In May, Craft donated $1.25 million to American Crossroads, the conservative PAC associated with former President George W. Bush political mastermind Karl Rove.
Alliance has also given to Crossroads to the tune of $850,000, along with $10,000 to the Romney campaign. And in January, Craft himself gave $500,000 to Restore Our Future.
Federal Election Commission records show Craft gave the Obama campaign $2,300 in 2007. Still, his support for the former Massachusetts governor is no surprise. He has donated to several GOP politicians over the years, and last year Romney tapped him as one of his Kentucky finance chairmen.
"Voters there and across the country are looking for a president who will not only bring back jobs and restore economic growth," Romney said in a statement, "but also get serious about energy independence and take advantage of our country's coal resources, which is especially important in Kentucky."
He added, "Joe's support will be essential to spreading my message to turn around our struggling economy."
Indeed, Craft has significant pull in the industry and his home state. He has served in leadership positions for the National Coal Council, the National Mining Association and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
And as a University of Kentucky graduate, he pledged $6 million for a new sports facility at the campus. The home to the university's athletics offices is now called the Joe Craft Center.
Richard Gilliam of Cumberland Resources Corp.
Having founded and led Cumberland Resources Corp., one of the country's top private coal producers, Richard Gilliam made headlines in 2010 for giving employees part of the proceeds of the company's sale to Massey Energy Co. Press reports indicate that Gilliam gave workers several thousand dollars apiece and made hefty contributions to their retirement accounts.
Gilliam, who is now a director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based Endurance Gold Corp., is also a prolific political donor. In June he gave the Restore Our Future PAC $250,000, according to FEC records. Gilliam also gave American Crossroads $500,000 between this year and last, and he gave the group $250,000 in 2010.
Gilliam and his wife, Leslie, like Joe Craft, have been linked to Charles and David Koch for their donations to conservative causes. The liberal Mother Jones magazine listed them among a series of prominent industrialists who belong to the brothers' "donors club."
The Center for Responsive Politics also listed both Gilliam and Craft among the top individual campaign donors for 2010.
Gilliam is a graduate of the University of Virginia's College at Wise, a community in the coal mining region of far southwestern Virginia. The college broke ground last month on $8.3 million fitness facilities thanks in part to a grant from the Richard and Leslie Gilliam Foundation.
"We have not forgotten where we come from," Leslie Gilliam said in remarks quoted by the Kingsport Times-News. "We're so excited about the future of UVa-Wise."
Other recent contributions include $5,000 to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and $5,000 each to Reps. Robert Hurt (R-Va.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.).
Kevin Crutchfield of Alpha Natural Resources Inc.
The CEO of Alpha Natural Resources Inc., through buyouts, now presides over both Massey Energy and Cumberland Resources, one of the country's top coal mining conglomerates. Kevin Crutchfield, who has served in executive positions for energy companies over the past two decades, is leading Alpha through a painful market slump.
"Exacerbating the situation," Alpha said in a news release last week announcing a $2 billion quarterly loss, "is a regulatory environment designed to constrain the mining and use of coal for electricity generation and promote the use of natural gas and heavily-subsidized renewable sources, raising the prospect of higher electricity prices in the future."
Adding to the company's woes, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has been doggedly pursuing safety violations at former Massey mines. Several reports have blamed that company for the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 workers in West Virginia in 2010.
Records show that Alpha gave American Crossroads $100,000 late last year. Crutchfield himself, while not as prolific a donor as other moguls, has given to a host of Republican and Democratic candidates over the years.
In recent months he has given $5,000 to Virginia GOP Senate candidate George Allen, $1,000 to Mandel in Ohio and $5,000 to the National Mining Association's PAC.
Ryan's coal, mining record
Although the coal industry appears to be all-in for Romney's campaign, the addition of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to the Republican ticket adds a new wrinkle.
Hailing from a district that is part rural and part industrial south of Milwaukee, Ryan doesn't count the coal and mining industries among his top contributors. A runner-up in the veepstakes, Portman of coal-rich Ohio was a better-known commodity to the industry executives.
Still, industry leaders appear pleased with Ryan. They are pointing at his much-talked-about budget proposal, which seeks to create incentives for U.S. coal and gas production and put a check on Obama administration regulations (Greenwire, Aug. 13).
Notably, when it comes to mining, Ryan in 2007 was one of 24 House Republicans who voted in favor of reforming the 1872 mining law and imposing a first-ever royalty on hardrock producers for materials like gold and uranium. That bill and other similar ones have failed to become law.
The National Mining Association, which opposes new royalties based on gross proceeds calculation, pointed at Ryan's record for this Congress, where he consistently voted with coal and mining priorities.
The group Earthworks, which is active in supporting mining reform legislation, pointed at similar votes to show that Ryan is at odds with their priorities. Other environmental groups like the Sierra Club have also given the Wisconsin congressman low marks.