Randy Robbins and Albrow Hall, the two miners who have objected to the ad, appear on-screen briefly during a reenactment of the trip. Another miner, Jimmy Moore, describes the “ten hours on a bus” the group traveled for their meeting with McConnell, “and we got to see him for all of one minute.”
“Mitch McConnell let the coal companies walk away from us. And then, after one minute, he did, too,” Moore says in the ad.
The spot closes with McGrath stating that “after 34 years in Washington, Mitch McConnell left our coal miners behind years ago.”
A lawyer for Robbins and Hall said in a letter to the McGrath campaign Wednesday that the two miners “were led to believe that the reenactment was being done for a documentary relating [to] the work of the Black Lung Association.”
“They did not know and were never told that they were being filmed for a political advertisement,” the lawyer Christopher L. Thacker, said in the letter, which was first reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader. He called on the McGrath campaign to “immediately cease and desist from the use of their personal images in any and all advertising and media.”
McGrath’s campaign maintained that the miners had signed release forms to appear in the ad.
“All of the miners were fully informed that they were being filmed for an ad and even signed up for McGrath hats and T-shirts,” McGrath’s campaign manager, Mark Nickolas, said in a statement.
Nickolas also suggested that partisan motivations were behind the letter, noting that the lawyer, Thacker, has ties to the administration of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R).
“Mitch McConnell remains under fire for his callous disregard for the health of our miners and asking a partisan lawyer tied to the equally incompetent Bevin administration to send a letter to complain is sheer political desperation and shows how nervous he is about his badly damaged re-election hopes,” he said.
A McGrath spokeswoman did not immediately respond when asked whether the campaign intends to take down the ad.
McConnell immediately seized on the episode. “Amy McGrath exploits coal miners. Who could have seen this coming?” the campaign said in a tweet.
In an interview, Thacker, who was appointed by Bevin to Kentucky’s Executive Branch Ethics Commission in 2016, disputed the McGrath’s campaign’s assertions.
He said his clients recalled a “sign-in sheet” being passed around during the filming but “they do not recall signing any release.”
“They thought they were there to do a documentary,” he said, adding that if they had been told their images were going to be used in a McGrath campaign ad, “they wouldn’t have been there.”
“They were there because they’re members of and supportive of the Black Lung Association and thought they were doing something nonpartisan,” Thacker said.
Asked about the McGrath campaign’s claim that he was acting at McConnell’s direction, Thacker said that he “did not seek or receive any input regarding the letter” from the Kentucky Republican’s campaign.