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Likely Byrd Successors Raked In Donations From Big Coal

Much of the buzz about the late Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) Senate replacement has revolved around what the appointment will mean for the Democrats’ economic agenda: an unemployment benefits extension and financial regulatory reform in particular. But in these areas, Byrd’s successor is expected to be a reliable yes vote. It’s on the environmental front that we could see a real change.

Byrd took to railing against the coal industry in his last months on the issue of mine safety and the need to join the clean energy push. But given that coal is West Virginia’s state rock, his replacement is expected to be pretty friendly to the industry. And the money won’t change that: Some of the leading candidates to fill Byrd’s seat have received hefty campaign donations from coal company PACs and company leaders.

**Gov. Joe Manchin (D) — **Though Manchin has repeatedly denied that he will consider appointing himself to the seat, he is almost certain to run for it in the special election — whenever that occurs. From Manchin’s 2000 campaign for secretary of state through his re-election campaign as governor in 2008, he received $281,963 in campaign donations from individuals and companies related to mining, including $12,250 from company PACs. It’s important to note here that the figures for individuals include donations from all people who work in mining-related industries, not just top company officials. According to Follow the Money, a National Institute on Money in State Politics website that tracks campaign donations at the state politics level, the company PAC donations to Manchin included a $500 donation in 2000 from Massey Energy, the company that has been under recent scrutiny for its record of safety violations in the wake of the deadly explosion at its Upper Big Branch Mine in early April.

State Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin (D) – Tomblin, who in his elected role also officially functions as the state’s lieutenant governor, is a likely candidate both as a caretaker for Byrd’s seat and as Manchin’s replacement as governor — at least on an interim basis — if Manchin wins the seat. Tomblin received a total of $26,150 in campaign contributions from individuals and companies related to the coal mining industry between the 2000 and 2008 campaigns, $9,600 of which came directly from the companies. He is also noteworthy for being one of the few Democratic politicians to receive a contribution from Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, who almost exclusively donates to Republicans. Tomblin received $2,000 in contributions from Blankenship during his 2004 re-election campaign, as well as $700 from Massey over the course of his 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

Former Gov. Bob Wise (D) – Wise served one term as governor between 2001 and 2005, declining to run for re-election following news of an extramarital affair and stiff primary challenges from Manchin and others. Though Wise served for nine terms in office before his election as governor, I was only able to find campaign finance records for his House races in 1998 and 2000, as well as records from the lead-up to his aborted 2004 re-election bid. During the 1998 election cycle, Wise received $5,500 from the mining industry — $2,550 from individuals and $3,000 from industry PACs, according to OpenSecrets.org. During the lead-up to the 2000 House race, which he abandoned to run for governor, Wise did not raise any money from the mining industry. During 2002 and 2003, when Wise still planned to run for re-election, he received $129,900 in donations from the mining industry, including $5,000 from industry PACs.

Reps. Alan Mollohan (D) and Nick Rahall (D) – While appointing a sitting congressman to a Senate seat has its pitfalls — you run the risk of losing the House seat in a special election — both Mollohan and Rahall have been mentioned as possible placeholders.

This is probably a more likely scenario for Mollohan, as he won’t be in the House next year anyway following his defeat in the primary election (although of course that raises its own questions). Mollohan received $179,750 in donations from the mining industry between 1989 and 2010. Rahall has received $125,000 from the mining industry since 1989.

It’s important to note that some of the possible Republican candidates for the special election have also received substantial donations from the mining industry. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R), who at the moment is waffling about jumping into the race, has received $328,700 from the mining industry since her successful 2000 campaign for the House seat left vacant by Wise. Former Secretary of State Betty Ireland (R) received $5,150 from the mining industry during her 2004 campaign, $1,000 of which came from Blankenship.

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