CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The "Citizens United" decision released by the U.S. Supreme Court in January could have a major impact on upcoming congressional elections in West Virginia and Kentucky, to the possible benefit of Republican Party candidates.
Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in June, wrote a dissent in the court's 5-4 decision warning that the "majority's approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past."
Roger Nicholson, senior vice president for the International Coal Group, sent e-mails to other mining executives last month, suggesting they might want to take advantage of the decision that allows companies to directly fund independent political committees created to support or defeat a candidate.
Nicholson specifically targeted three candidates in his e-mail: Reps. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., and Ben Chandler, D-Ky., and Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.
Nicholson said Rahall, Chandler and Conway are all against the coal industry.
In his e-mail, Nicholson stated that he had already held "theoretical discussions" with four coal companies - ICG, Massey Energy, Alliance Resource Partners and Natural Resource Partners - about setting up a political campaign committee.
On Friday, Nicholson's secretary at his Scott Depot office referred questions to Ira Gamm, an ICG spokesman.
"We are not answering any individual questions," Gamm said.
Asked whether the names of donors would be made public, Gamm said, "I don't know. This is just exploratory. It is speculative as to whether any money will be raised at all."
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling does not allow corporate-financed political committees to have contact with candidates they are trying to elect or defeat.
This year, ICG and Massey are backing Elliott "Spike" Maynard, a former West Virginia Supreme Court justice who lost his seat in the 2008 Democratic primary, in his race against Rahall.
Maynard, who switched his party registration in Mingo County to Republican earlier this year, lost his 2008 campaign after photographs surfaced showing him vacationing with Massey CEO Don Blankenship on the French Riviera.
At the time, Massey had cases pending before the state Supreme Court.
This year, Rahall already has received contributions from several major coal companies and/or their political action committees, including: Peabody Energy, Consolidation Coal, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal, Black Beauty Coal, Magnum Coal, Cotiga Development, Alpha Natural Resources, Allegheny Energy and Patriot Coal.
The United Mine Workers PAC gave $10,000 to Rahall.
Larry Matheney, secretary-treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, said, "The International Coal Group is probably not going to do one thing in violation of federal or state election laws, but that doesn't make it right.
"Campaign ads will paint good people as bad people, due to the unlimited influence ICG and other coal companies will have due to their vast financial resources.
"I hope we see publicly financed campaigns some day," Matheney said. "Until we do, public policy will be skewed to the wealthy."
Voters will be "judge, jury"
Individual political candidates have always been allowed to spend as much of their personal money as they wanted to spend on their own campaigns.
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