The Influence Industry
Mining interests are heavily invested in Capitol Hill
Thursday, April 8, 2010
The mining industry, which finds itself under renewed scrutiny this week after dozens of fatalities at a West Virginia coal mine, wields major political clout in Washington thanks to hefty campaign contributions to GOP lawmakers and expensive lobbying efforts aimed at blunting the impact of environment- and safety-related legislation.
Mining companies and related trade groups have sharply increased their lobbying efforts in recent years, tripling their spending from $10.2 million in 2004 to nearly $31 million in 2008, according to a review of lobbying disclosures by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a watchdog group.
The investment in Washington dropped only slightly last year, to $26 million, as mining and energy companies worked to defeat cap-and-trade legislation. The legislation passed the House but stalled in the Senate, in large part because of strong opposition by senators in top coal-producing states. Leading spenders included Peabody Energy ($5.8 million), Consol Energy ($3.4 million), Arch Coal ($2 million) and the National Mining Association, the industry's main trade group, which spent $2.8 million on lobbying, records show.
Mining firms and their employees have also donated more than $13 million to federal lawmakers since 2005; 74 percent of that money went to GOP candidates and about half came from industry political action committees.
The United Mine Workers of America, by contrast, donated less than $1 million to federal candidates during the same time period, according to CRP data. All but 1 percent of that went to Democrats.
At least 25 workers died Monday in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, owned by Richmond-based Massey Energy Co. The company's chief executive, Don Blankenship, is a highly active GOP fundraiser and bankroller who is known for his outspoken opposition to labor unions; the Upper Big Branch Mine is not unionized.
CRP calculates that individuals and PACs connected to Massey Energy have contributed more than $300,000 to federal candidates in the past two decades, 91 percent of which went to Republicans. Top recipients include current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has collected $13,550 from Massey-connected contributors, records show.
Blankenship contributed the federal maximum of $30,400 last year to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and he has supported Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and GOP Senate candidates Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio.
The Massey Energy chairman garnered national attention in 2004 when he contributed $3 million to the campaign of a West Virginia judicial candidate, who later played a pivotal role in overturning a $50 million judgment against Massey Energy. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that the judge should have recused himself from the case.
New conservative force
A well-connected new conservative political group hopes to shake up the 2010 midterm elections by providing a potential alternative to the Republican National Committee, which has come under siege for spending nearly $2,000 on "meals" at a sex-themed nightclub in West Hollywood, Calif.
American Crossroads, based in Warrenton, Va., is the brainchild of a team of veteran GOP consultants, including former RNC chairman Mike Duncan, Republican operative Jim Dyke and Steven J. Law, who is leaving his perch as chief legal officer and general counsel at the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Karl Rove, George W. Bush's former political adviser, and former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie have also signed on as advisers.
American Crossroads is "an independent, national grassroots political organization whose mission is to speak out in support of conservative issues and candidates across America," according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The group has already received commitments for more than $30 million in donations from wealthy contributors, and plans to spend more than $50 million on advocacy ads and other efforts aimed at influencing the November elections, according to Dyke and others.
Because it is organized as a so-called 527 group, American Crossroads is not governed by limits imposed by the Federal Election Commission and -- under an appeals court ruling last month -- is free to collect as much money as it wants from wealthy donors. Rick Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the evidence suggests that American Crossroads will appeal primarily to large-scale donors rather than grass-roots contributors. The group's IRS form lists "no@email" as its e-mail address.
"Supposedly they've collected $30 million in promised money with no Web site and before they even really exist," Hasen said. "This is not based on mass appeal; it's a different model."