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Coal Baron, McKinley Donor Accused Of Breaking Campaign Laws

4/7/12 memo signed by Bob Murray which publicly names employees who have not given, and saying he feels "insulted" by them. Courtesy Alec MacGillis and The New Republic.
4/7/12 memo signed by Bob Murray which publicly names employees who have not given, and saying he feels "insulted" by them. Courtesy Alec MacGillis and The New Republic.
October 15, 2012

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - One of Congressman David McKinley's biggest backers stands accused of breaking campaign finance laws by pressuring his employees to donate. Last month, coal baron Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, drew fire for forcing his miners to attend a Republican rally without pay. Now a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission charges that Murray routinely pressured his white-collar workers to give to candidates and his political action committee.

The New Republic published company fundraising memos, and staff writer Alec MacGillis says they were confirmed by sources inside Murray's mining empire.

"They were expected to give. They were expected to give to the PAC, as a deduction from their paycheck. Typically, 1 percent of their pay would go to the PAC. They were also expected to give to Mr. Murray's separate personal fundraisers."

MacGillis says his sources were afraid to reveal their names. But he says they and the memos describe relentless fundraising coercion, often including thinly veiled threats. He says his sources also told him that at least some of the money was essentially coming from the company itself, laundered through an employee bonus program.

"Their understanding that they got from their superiors was that this would be made up to them. The sense that my sources had was that the discretionary part of the bonus was to some degree dependent on their participating."

Campaign finance watchdogs in West Virginia say the charges against Murray are particularly important because of his history. Julie Archer is project manager for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group. She says Murray uses his donations to build political connections, which he in turn uses to fight enforcement of federal environmental and mine-safety laws. She alleges that Murray has threatened Mine Safety and Health Administration officials who were investigating his mines.

"What Mr. Murray had done in the past was suggest to employees of MSHA that he had some sway over their boss through his political contributions."

Murray has described that accusation as exaggerated. Federal records show Murray Energy is one of McKinley's largest backers, with a dozen employees of the company and its subsidiaries giving to his campaign.

McKinley did not return calls requesting comment. An e-mail from Murray Energy called the fundraising "voluntary" and the charges politically motivated, "incorrect and dishonest."

The New Republic Article is at www.tnr.com. The FEC complaint can be found at tinyurl.com/9byb8kp.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV