CAMPAIGN 2018

Republicans launch offensive against Blankenship

This story was updated at 1:24 p.m. EDT.

The Republican who tried to take down Judge Roy Moore in Alabama is now after another outsider candidate unloved by the national party: coal boss Don Blankenship.

A new outside spending group, the Mountain Families PAC, will air ads today in West Virginia attacking Blankenship, who has gone from federal prison to the front of the West Virginia GOP primary in less than a year.

This is the group's first foray into the race, but its website leaves no doubt as to its stance.

"Convicted criminal Don Blankenship," the heading reads. "Isn't there enough toxic sludge in Washington already?"

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Federal Communications Commission documents list the purchased television airtime as "anti-Blankenship," according to filings by Main Street Media, the firm the PAC used to coordinate the ad buys with broadcasting companies.

The former Massey Energy Corp. CEO served one year for willfully violating federal mine safety regulations at his mines, including Upper Big Branch, where 29 miners died in 2010.

Today Blankenship's camp launched a fact check site, www.factcheckwv.com, to present his perspective on coal and mine safety.

Blankenship has long presented a different view of the events surrounding Upper Big Branch than prosecutors and investigators.

The super political action committee registered with the Federal Election Commission on March 29, according to its filing, with a mailing address in Arlington, Va.

As a super PAC, it cannot donate directly to, or coordinate with, campaigns but can raise and spend unlimited sums advocating for or against candidates.

The group's treasurer is listed as Benjamin Ottenhoff, former chief financial officer of the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to his biography in the RNC entry on the Democracy in Action website.

Last year, Ottenhoff was listed on FEC paperwork for a super PAC backing former Sen. Luther Strange against Moore, the evangelical firebrand who unseated Strange in the GOP primary before losing the general election — a disaster for national Republicans. After Moore won the primary, though, Ottenhoff registered a joint fundraising committee supporting his bid.

It seems Ottenhoff and the national GOP are at it again. Like Moore, Blankenship is openly opposed by national party figures, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

And like Moore, Blankenship remains popular in an increasingly red state, threatening to win the nomination over established politicians like Rep. Evan Jenkins (R) and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (E&E Daily, April 10).

Blankenship has spent months maligning the Republican establishment and welcomes opposition from figures like McConnell as part of his strategy.

Ottenhoff's name appears on dozens of FEC filings for super PACs, fundraising committees and other fundraising and campaign groups for the midterm campaign cycle. These groups have given almost exclusively to Republicans.

For example, he is listed as the secretary for "Defend Arizona," a super PAC working in the Arizona Senate race — yet another contest with an establishment figure, Rep. Martha McSally, facing a fringe-right candidate, Kelli Ward.

Groups registered to Ottenhoff have raised at least $2.56 million so far in this campaign cycle, according to reporting by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Ottenhoff is affiliated with the Crosby Ottenhoff Group, a firm that has done consulting for the NRCC as well as prominent Republicans including Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip. In this campaign cycle, the firm has received $105,000 from the NRCC, according to CRP data.

The Mountain Families PAC will spend at least $200,000 on more than 100 ads across the state, according to filings with the FCC.

Some of the FCC filings by Main Street Media list the ads as "non-candidate issue" ads. The documents state that the "programming does not 'communicate a political matter of national importance.'" Neither Ottenhoff nor Main Street Media responded to requests for comment.

The ads will kick off tomorrow night during prime-time television, appearing during commercial breaks for NBC shows "The Blacklist" and "The Tonight Show" and CBS's "The Big Bang Theory."

Reporter Dylan Brown contributed.

Twitter: @npbowlin Email: nbowlin@eenews.net

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