The other day we noted the “massive slide” in Mitch McConnell’s lead over Matt Bevin in the Republican primary, with poll after poll showing McConnell locked in neck-and-neck race with Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes — and Bevin perhaps in a better position to defeat her.
We also noted that McConnell, through his Bluegrass Committee PAC, has doled out $1,000 checks to almost half the Republican State Senators and almost all of the Republican State Representatives. That’s an effective way to try to control your political fate — the campaign finance patronage means allies in local communities to help turn out the vote. It’s one of McConnell’s big advantages in his race against Bevin, even as Bevin finds himself getting serious help (and serious money) from national conservative and Tea Party groups like FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots.
That mobilization of conservative grassroots activists could spell trouble for McConnell. And if so, could McConnell’s patronage of down ticket Republicans turn an asset for their own Republican challengers?
To find out, I’ve been reaching out to Republicans in the State Representative and State Senate races to take their temperature on the question.
In the 32nd District State House race, McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee gave a $1,000 check to Rep. Julie Raque Adams… but then Raque Adams announced she was running for State Senate, leaving this seat open. It is now a race between Shellie May, a Jefferson County Republican Party Chair, and failed 2011 Tea Party gubernatorial candidate Phil Moffett.
I asked Moffett what he thought of the McConnell/Bevin race and what shadow, if any, it might cast over his race.
“I don’t see it influencing my state House race because the races are on completely different levels,” Moffett replied. “Voters in my district are interested in things like traffic improvement, noise abatement, maybe a few state tax issues – hardly U.S. Senate topics.”
Moffett’s 2011 race for Governor was supposed to be demonstrate the muscle of the Tea Party but ultimately fizzled out. It’s interesting that in this race for the State House Moffett is taking a pass on putting the race in a larger context but, of course, his job isn’t to care about McConnell (or Bevin, or for that matter the Tea Party), it’s noise abatement and traffic — and it will be interesting to see how the race shakes out.
In the 89th District House race, things are a bit different. The incumbent Republican, Marie Rader, received $1,000 from McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee.
Marie Rader for State Representative
PO Box 323
Mc Kee, Kentucky 404470323
Two other Republicans are running against Ms. Rader – Gerardo Serrano and Michael Bryant. CN|2 pegged this race as one of the Top 10 Primaries in the state to watch:
Rep. Marie Rader, R-McKee, has drawn a primary challenge in four of the last five elections in the 89th District, which covers Jackson County, southern Madison County and northern Laurel County. She has won the nomination with at least 55 percent of the vote each time. But the district has changed. The 89th lost Owsley County, where Rader fared well. And it picked up precincts in southern Madison County. She faces two primary opponents: Gerardo Serrano, who like Rader hails from Jackson County, and Michael Bryant of London.
So with Rep. Rader taking $1,000 from McConnell and the shape of her district changing, how are Bryant and Serrano viewing their chances and the landscape of the Primary with the larger US Senate battle brewing?
I asked and both Bryant and Serrano were good enough to answer. First up, Mr. Bryant:
MICHAEL BRYANT: Regarding the Bluegrass Committee’s contribution to Marie Rader’s campaign, I have no expectation that her contributors will all equally support my bid for the KY House. You ask, “Does that factor into your campaign?” Yes. That is $1000 that she will spend to run against me. But we are very confident that folks in the 89th District are willing to invest in the positive change they say they’re ready for and that they believe we can bring to the job.
Regarding the U.S. Senate race here, thanks for your confidence that either of the top Republican candidates might need or want our support. At this time, neither have reached out for our endorsement.
Bryant’s response was a good one, careful but playful. It was marked with smiley faced emoticons — sometimes that can seem obnoxious, sometimes it seems crazy but in this case, and how Bryant used them (there were three in full), they were actually pretty humorous. And you can’t help but appreciate that. There’s some good nature behind the Bryant campaign.
Mr. Serrano, on the other hand, is leaving no doubt where he stands and if the Bevin campaign continues to pick up steam, Mr. Serrano may be in a good position to benefit come Primary time:
GERARDO SERRANO: Mitch McConnell supporting my opponent was expected. She is part of the establishment. She is going to need every dime because I intend to win this race… I do support Matt Bevin and from what I saw in the current polling Matt is doing well.
As far as a struggle between the parties, I think the people of both political parties are tired of the same kind of unresponsive leadership. I meet people everyday from both parties and everyone seems to feel the same. The 89th district is a wonderful area to live but a lot remains to be done. The recent arrests in Jackson County serve as a reminder that cronyism is still running strong in Southeastern Kentucky which also contributes to the high unemployment rate. That is why I decided to run. The 89th District can’t continue on the course it is heading, I believe we need a new direction for our area and our party.
If you can’t help but enjoy Bryant’s good nature, you can’t help but respect Serrano’s straight-forward drive.
Rader, the Republican incumbent, has taken Mitch’s moolah, and now she’s facing a new district against two motivated Republican opponents. There are plenty of ways the race could shake down, but Bevin keeps tightening the score on Mitch, that $1,000 end up being more trouble than it’s worth. It’s just one more dynamic to watch as the Republican Primary ramps up and groups like FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots continue to target McConnell for removal.
We’ve asked several other Republicans for comment on their particular races and many of them have indicated their comment is forthcoming, so we’ll update as we get ‘em.
A poll out last week put Mitch McConnell up just 1% over his Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes — 45% to 44%. Mitch’s disapproval rating is 51% overall, 24% among Republicans and 54% disapproval among Independents.
Two weeks earlier, the national Republican Party was tweeting about Mitch’s “massive lead” over his Republican primary challenger Matt Bevin — 53% to 31%.
But that 22% “massive lead” is less massive when you consider that just a few months ago Team Mitch had the race against Bevin at 59% to 20%. It’s still a lead but it’s a diminishing one which indicates a “massive swing” among Republicans in Kentucky toward Matt Bevin. The two polls, both touted by Mitch and his allies, show Bevin has very nearly slashed McConnell’s lead in half.
The rose-colored reading from McConnell and the GOP establishment comes, conveniently, at a time when rose-colored readings are desperately needed by McConnell and the GOP establishment.
It came two weeks after the Senate Conservative Fund dumped $1,000,0000 into the Bevin campaign against McConnell. And it came one just one week before FreedomWorks — the powerful Tea Party/conservative group — endorsed Matt Bevin in the Republican primary, pledging to drop at least an additional half million dollars into the Bevin campaign.
Yet another poll, out yesterday from Republican-pollsters at Rasmussen, has the McConnell/Grimes race deadlocked at 42%. That’s bad news for McConnell but not as bad as the other news in the Rasmussen poll — if Mitch loses the primary and voters were picking between Bevin and Grimes, Bevin would win 40% to 34%. Mitch appears to be the weaker, less electable Republican candidate.
The money from the Senate Conservative Fund and FreedomWorks is no small potatoes. As the New York Times reported Sunday, the balance of power in Right Wing fundraising is shifting markedly. The conservative groups outraised conventional Republican fundraising efforts last year behind a growing perception that Mitch McConnell and Karl Rove are ideological and tactical failures:
Groups representing the party establishment, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads, are struggling to bring in the level of cash they raised in 2012, when Crossroads spent more than $300 million in a failed effort to defeat President Obama and retake the Senate, leaving donors grumbling that their dollars had been wasted.
Meanwhile, insurgent conservative groups like the Tea Party Patriots — emboldened by activists’ fury over compromises that Republican leaders have struck with Democrats on federal spending — now have formidable amounts of cash to augment their grass-roots muscle.
For their part, Tea Party Patriots announced Monday that they were forming a Super PAC to target races were an approved conservative could oust a sitting — and stagnant — Republican:
“We are currently huddling with activists on the ground in South Carolina looking for an alternative to Senator Lindsay Graham, and in Kentucky, where many have lost faith in the Senate Minority Leader,” [Jenny Beth Martin, the group’s president] said in a statement. “We will be expanding the mission into the Mississippi, Nebraska, Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina Senate races shortly.”
While McConnell and his folks crow about a “massive lead” it is clear they are beginning to worry about a “massive uprising.”
McConnell’s own Super PAC — the ironically named “Kentuckians for Strong Leadership” — took in $1.2 million in the back half of 2013, but not one penny of it came from Kentuckians. Instead, Mitch is being forced out of Kentucky to strum up big money from two dozen donors including a Florida investor, a Chicago hedge fund manager, a media mogul and a fancy DC lawyer.
Under assault from conservatives across the country, McConnell must find a tourniquet before all his support bleeds out. To that end, Mitch is flailing about — opportunistically seeking to shove himself front and center on environmental deregulation while at the same time disingenuously (and rather belatedly) putting on a Tea Party beard and going after Obama for using the IRS to crush far right political groups. Which is hilarious since the supposedly crushed Tea Party groups Mitch is (finally) defending are the very ones that are raising massive amounts of cash to defeat him.
The consummate DC insider must now figure out how to prove to the voters of Kentucky that he actually cares about them. Although “prove” may be too strong a word.
McConnell knows the power of Kentucky’s grassroots Republicans all too well. Three years ago his hand-picked US Senate candidate, Trey Grayson, was crushed by Rand Paul in the Republican Primary. A stinging rebuke of McConnell’s DC way of doing business and a possible foreshadowing of Mitch’s current re-election predicament.
Mitch McConnell isn’t just now figuring all this out. He’s been doomsday prepping for years. Mitch brought on Ron and Rand Paul ally Jesse Benton to run his campaign and cozy up to these Tea Party types. Even after Benton was caught on tape dissing his boss, Mitch – a famously cold-blooded campaigner — couldn’t bring himself to fire his insubordinate campaign manager. McConnell must put up with Benton and Rand Paul and do their bidding because if Mitch loses them, he loses what conservative boehnerfides he still has.
“Between you and me, I’m sort of holdin’ my nose for two years because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in ’16, so that’s my long vision.” — Jesse Benton, Team Mitch campaign manager.
With Rand Paul’s conservative allies increasingly lining up against McConnell it is more important than ever that Mitch keep Rand on board — as the Bevin opposition grows, so too will Rand’s isolation and things might get dicey. After all, if Rand’s long vision is also set on 2016, then his alliance with McConnell loses its luster if Mitch can’t guard his own yard.
Perhaps that’s why on December 11th, 2013, Mitch McConnell’s wife, the Honorable Elaine Chao, wrote a check for Rand Paul’s Victory Committee:
HON. ELAINE L. CHAO
P.O. BOX 1118
WASHINGTON, DC 200131118
Team Rand is not the only group McConnell must keep happy.
Mitch is a power player and after thirty years in the US Senate, he weilds that power and influence mightily. Being on Mitch’s good side is helpful; being on his bad side is not. McConnell has his own political action group, the Bluegrass Committee.
In all, McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee wrote $1,000 checks for fourteen of the twenty-four sitting Republican State Senators (and an additional $1,000 check for a Republican candidate for State Senate).
In the State House, McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee sent out forty-five $1,000 checks to sitting State Reps and Republican candidates. The Kentucky State House currently has 100 members — forty-four of them are Republicans.
(Aside from one check to a group in DC, the Bluegrass Committee focused the brunt of its monetary energy on state-level races.)
This network is a powerful part of McConnell’s strength. While Bevin may end up with a formidable grassroots presence thanks to the outside groups helping him — FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots both have large email networks, in addition to their monied power — McConnell’s “stewardship” of the state Republican party infrastructure gives him a foothold in Kentucky’s counties, nooks and crannies. From Paducah to Pikeville, as they say.
So long as the recipients of McConnell’s largesse remain supportive of Team Mitch, McConnell’s campaign can feel confidant they have a groundwork for local support in each of these legislative districts. The local legislator should deliver votes to McConnell.
Of course — that too might get tricky. If Bevin’s support continues to rise, and McConnell’s lead continues to experience this “massive slide,” these State Reps and State Senators may find their own voters turning on them. If they’re seen as too close to the not-conservative-enough perpetual Senate Minority Leader, no amount of political patronage (or arm twisting) may be enough to keep them, too, from jumping ship.
Undoubtedly, these will be pressure points FreedomWorks, the Tea Party Patriots and the Senate Conservative Fund will focus upon — if they can get grassroots supporters to break through McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee firewall, they may just find the tender little Mitch that hides beneath that protective shell.
Last week, Alison Lundergan Grimes unveiled a plan for Kentucky, re: jobs, the economy and stuff, but House Speaker Greg Stumbo upstaged her by saying that Grimes’ candidacy was like the liberation of France in World War II.
Mitch McConnell’s crackpot campaign team seized on the least offensive part of this and claimed Team Grimes was calling kooky grampaw Mitch a Nazi.
(The obviously more offensive part of Stumbo’s claim — or dare I say, only offensive part — was that it suggests the voters of Kentucky either are incompetent occupied French citizens too spineless to fight for themselves or they are Nazi collaborators… but I guess Team Mitch didn’t think Kentuckians were smart enough to understand that one.)
Less than a year ago McConnell and his campaign team were caught on a secret recording making fun of people who suffer from depression. They deflected attention then by calling the recording a “gestapo style” attack [LINK].
With all this bandying about of ol’ Hitler, it’s hard not to wish for a higher level of dialogue in a United States Senate race where the incumbent, McConnell, holds the most powerful position of the minority party in the upper house of the legislative branch of the United States government, but wishes are for children. This Senate race is for adults only. 18 and over.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, some evidence to the contrary, was not written from the perspective of Mitch McConnell.
It might surprise you to learn this Nazishaming is a diversion. Mitch played the Nazi card to divert attention from Grimes’ jobs speech and in turn, Grimes sent out an email blast which — rather than mention details of that jobs plan — lamented Mitch’s gestapo-style attacks on her campaign and asked the dear reader for money. Poo-tee-weet. So it goes.
(If you were wondering, Kentucky is unlikely to elect a Nazi to the United States Senate this year. Maybe some other year, but doesn’t look like this one. Although if you live in Pulaski County, you are being cordially invited to join the KKK.)
Let’s move on.
In a really great article out last night, the Herald Leader’s Sam Youngman cornered Grimes on the issue of global warming and her support for Big Coal. Grimes has repeatedly told Kentucky voters that she’s the “real Pro-Coal candidate in this race” and she’s constantly railing against Obama’s coal-killing regulations, even going so far as to promise she’ll do more to demolish EPA regulations than has McConnell.
Sam got the results you’d probably imagine: Grimes is walking a tightrope everyone already knows she’s walking.
Which tightrope is up for debate… the easy narrative is that she’s secretly an environmentalist and truly hates coal with the power of a thousand power plants, and that’s pretty much the takeaway from both the article and the McConnell campaign. It ends:
“She will, no matter what she says between now and the election, inevitably be tied to the anti-coal forces,” McConnell told reporters in Lexington on Friday. “People who have been contributing to her campaign are hostile to coal. Vocally, aggressively hostile to coal.
“I think it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that those who are supporting her think she’s one of them. So look at who’s supporting her, and reach your own conclusions.”
There’s an inversion theory out there, too, a flip-flopped understanding of the tightrope, but who would it help to understand that? Let’s just accept for now that Mitch is right. And if he is…
The tail end of Mitch’s quote, in lesser hands perhaps, would be a campaign ad tomorrow.
“I think it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that those who are supporting her think she’s one of them. So look at who’s supporting her, and reach your own conclusions.”
Last week we noted that one of the heads of Freedom Industries, that fabulous outfit in West Virginia that dumped chemicals in a river cutting off clean water to over 300,000 people, had given $5,000 to Mitch McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee PAC. [LINK]
We also pointed out that J. Clifford Forrest, the “Manager” of Freedom Industries, has given $2,500 to McConnell’s 2014 re-election fund. [LINK]
To borrow a quote:
So look at who’s supporting him, and reach your own conclusions.
And as we noted before, on the day of the leak in West Virginia — at the very same time the scope of the leak was first coming into focus — Mitch McConnell was at the White House accepting a government handout for Eastern Kentucky while simultaneously blasting the government for what he likes to call “The War on Coal” and all the hardship that “war” has brought on the people of Appalachia. (Neverminding that a war generally has two sides, and claiming the American government is on the bad one is a Jane Fonda-style tactic, and that while coal executives and their legislators have thrived over the past hundred years the people of the region remain the poorest in America.)
McConnell and fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul also used the opportunity to talk up their idea for “Economic Freedom Zones” [LINK]. In again admittedly lesser hands, McConnell pushing his anti-regulation and anti-government “Freedom Zones” while accepting a handout from the federal government at the same time a company called “Freedom Industries” — whose execs have contributed to Mitch’s own causes — is pumping chemicals into the drinking water of Appalachia might seem like a confluence toward weakness.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his colleague Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced a bill they call the “Economic Freedom Zones Act of 2013.” Among other things, the bill would exempt polluters in high-poverty regions from complying with (and would bar the U.S. EPA from enforcing) water pollution permitting requirements under Clean Water Act section 402. (Adding insult to injury, the two politicians are billing this proposal as an anti-poverty measure.)
And here’s a photo from outside the Freedom Industries chemical plant, taken last week [LINK]:
As you may well know at this point, earlier this week Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy. One of the keys to dealing with any scandal is to compartmentalize it, create distance between players and, if you will, muddy the water. To that end, Freedom Industries has been painted as a sort of low tech outlier organization in the larger coal industry, a place run by amateurs, as if they’re a bunch of dipshit cowboys in some cowboyless universe. Which may be true — but what would that make all the other cowboys?
After almost a week of silence, Freedom Industries piped up to blame their chemical leak on a frozen pipe above their property… which means, they say, the whole thing was the water company’s fault [LINK]. This excuse doesn’t explain why when investigators responded to the chemical plant on the morning of the leak they were met by a Freedom executive who declared there was absolutely no problem at the plant only to then discover that in fact there was a problem — a massive chemical leak — which the Freedom workers were attempting to plug with a single cinder block, having failed to alert anyone at all to the problem at hand. [That insane part of this story was reported by Ken Ward Jr. who should get a Pulitzer for his work not just on this chemical leak but on the coal industry as a whole over the years, read it here.]
To be fair to Freedom Industries, West Virginia American Water did fill up its water tanks with contaminated water many days after the spill and then drive around distributing the contaminated water to citizens who were miffed as to why the supposedly safe water American Water was giving them smelled and looked exactly the same as the contaminated water coming out of their pipes [LINK]. West Virginia American Water is division of the massive private utility corporation American Water which also owns the water of central Kentucky via Kentucky American Water. American Water has admitted in corporate filings to raising water rates in its markets to offset increased conservation by its customers — because you’re using less water, they’re going to charge you more [LINK]. Mitch McConnell’s taken around $6,000 from American Water in the last few years, at least [LINK].
In Friday’s Washington Post, there’s a interesting look at Freedom Industries, its bankruptcy and Mr. Forrest [LINK]. It starts out:
It took just one week for Pennsylvania coal mining executive Cliff Forrest, the new owner of Freedom Industries, to discover that one of the six-decade-old storage tanks he had acquired Dec. 31 was leaking a toxic chemical into the Elk River that supplies water to about 300,000 West Virginians.
And it continues:
Freedom Industries has bought and stored chemicals from the likes of Eastman Chemical, an international $12 billion business, and Georgia Pacific Chemicals, a unit of the Koch brothers’ Georgia Pacific, a global paper product giants. Then Freedom Industries sells to companies such as Alpha Natural Resources, one of the country’s biggest coal producers. More than 100 plants in West Virginia use froth flotation.
Forrest, through another firm he owns, paid roughly $20 million to acquire Freedom Industries and orchestrate its Dec. 31 merger with four tiny distribution, blending and storage firms that act as middle men between big chemical and big coal companies, according to a person close to the company but not authorized to speak for it. He added that Forrest just “had the misfortune of buying a plant just before all hell broke loose.”
The article goes on and has many other good details — many of them attributed to the same mysteriously unnamed source close to Freedom Industries [LINK].
The West Virginia Gazette has even more details on Freedom, its takeover and its bankruptcy. [LINK]
The company Forrest purchased had not paid federal taxes for most of the past decade — owing $2.5M.
It owed another $3.6M to its various creditors.
It had two liens from the West Virginia Bureau of Employment Programs for failure to pay its Unemployment Compensation Insurance.
And it was delinquent since last October on its county property taxes — an amount Freedom paid in full, about $93,000, on January 10th, the day after the spill.
Either Forrest showed up a week before “all hell broke loose” and bought a company sight unseen — never kicking the tires, taking a tour of its facilities, inspecting its background or its financials — or he was familiar with all these details and bought Freedom Industries anyway after some period of inspection and investigation.
Forrest is the head of Rosebud Mining, the 21st largest coal producer in the nation [LINK], hardly the neophyte the WaPo anonymous source close to Freedom Industries describes.
And what about this other notion — that Freedom Inudstries were just a ‘middle man’ type business, the wannabe Han Solo’s who catfished one of America’s most powerful industries and simply ran trades inbetween larger entities, all of them ignorant of the incompetence they were dealing with?
Eastman Chemical, the makers of the chemical Freedom Industries dumped into the Elk River, have given Mitch McConnell nearly $30,000 over just the past few years [LINK]. Every year, Eastman Chemical spends heavily to block and undo environmental protections [LINK]. Oh, and they have no real idea how toxic their chemical is and all the estimates on what’s safe to consume are based off just one small study [LINK].
So look at who’s supporting him, and reach your own conclusions.
Eastman sold its mystery unregulated chemical to Freedom Industries. Freedom in turn sold it to Alpha Natural Resources.
The company that bought Freedom Inudstries is called “Chemstream.” Chemstream is owned by Rosebud’s J. Clifford Forrest. The letter sent by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to Freedom Industries the day after the chemical leak was CC’d to David McCombie of Chemstream [LINK]. McCombie is Chemstream’s President and a Rosebud guy, according to the Pennsylvania Coal Association’s member directory, and Chemstream’s General Manager is Jeffery Kukura [LINK], an executive at Alpha Natural Resources [LINK] — one of the key purchasers of the chemicals Freedom Industries “stored” in those tanks on the Elk River.
Alpha Natural Resources is the company that subsumed Massey Energy, the company whose focus on production over safety lead to the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia in which 29 people died [LINK]. Alpha’s purchase was criticized by some who thought it would help shield Massey from the fallout of Big Branch and by plenty of others who thought it odd Alpha chose to keep key Massey execs, like Baxter F. Phillips who was President of Massey at the time of Big Branch, on the Alpha payroll [LINK]. Baxter has given $1,000 to Kentucky’s 6th District Republican congressman Garland Barr IV [LINK] while Alpha Natural Resources has given Mitch McConnell about $20,000 over the past half decade [LINK].
So look at who’s supporting him, and reach your own conclusions.
The point in all this is not that there was some grand conspiracy by Mitch McConnell supporters to dose the drinking water of 300,000 people in West Virginia’s capital or some other Goebbels-style innuendo. That would be idiotic.
Freedom didn’t intentionally dump chemicals in the water, they just didn’t put much value in ensuring it wouldn’t happen (or in paying taxes to the government that’s now busting ass to cover their mess). And they and their business partners all share shoddy environmental track records and the other thing they share is an interest in electing politicians who’d like to see the EPA crippled and this already under-regulated industry further de-regulated. Thus you have Mitch McConnell, and people like him.
The point is that while some might try to distance Freedom Industries from the coal industry at large, they are actually quite entrenched in that industry. [See Jeff Biggers good explanation of this distancing-vs-intertwinedness here.]
Freedom Industries’ Christmas Message, Coal People Magazine, December 2013. Click here for PDF.
It’s easy to imagine the Freedom Industries team as a Three Stooges sort of comedy troupe — the one guy has cocaine arrests, the other guy bombed at his press conference, and then there’s the unnamed one who supposedly didn’t know his workers were plugging a massive chemical leak with a single cinder block. But they’re actually quite mainstream — or were.
Last spring the Freedom Industries team were in downtown Lexington at the annual Coal Processing Exhibition & Conference — or Coal Prep. They were in booth 820 [LINK].
On the first day of Coal Prep 2013, the Kentucky Coal Assocation, a/k/a Friends of Coal, sponsored a “day of education.” [LINK]
At 11AM, for example, the Freedom Industries folks might have enjoyed taking in a fabulous panel discussion on “Federal and State Official’s Viewpoints of the Regulatory Assault on Appalachian / Illinois Coal Basins.” The conversation was moderatated by Mitch McConnell’s “Energy Policy Advisor.”
It should also be noted that later in the day, at 3:30PM, Alison Lundergan Grimes’ former law firm got the starring role at the panel discussion entitled: “Examination of Environmental Activist Groups and Their Effect on the Domestic Energy Market.”
Hear about the ramifications environmental activist groups have on the domestic energy market. Their current actions, whether in litigation or public discourse, continue to drive up costs for consumers thus creating more uncertainty for everyone in the U.S.
Did you know Environmental Activist Groups were responsible for the epically low cost of natural gas that is ruining the coal market?
Did you also know Environmental Activist Groups were responsible for the scientific and economic fact that it’s insanely more expensive to mine what’s left in Appalachia than it is to mine coal out west and that’s why coal companies are moving their resources there?
So much to learn.
Freedom Industries didn’t make headlines at the 2013 Coal Prep but they sure did five years earlier. At the 2008 Coal Prep, Freedom was proud to announce a partnership with Georgia-Pacific [LINK]:
With coal in short supply worldwide, obtaining maximum quality and yield from coal preparation plants is vital to feeding high global demand and capitalizing on higher coal prices. With this in mind, Georgia-Pacific Chemicals LLC is unveiling its new patent-pending Talon(TM) Mining Reagents product line in conjunction with its distributor, Freedom Industries (booth 423), at the Coal Prep 2008 Exhibition and Conference, held April 29-May 1 in Lexington, KY.
“Georgia-Pacific Chemicals is committed to the development of products and expertise that help its customers obtain higher efficiencies from their mining processes,” said Dennis Kennedy, commercial manager of mining chemicals. “At Coal Prep 2008, we are pleased to introduce our innovative line of mining reagents. Our Talon depressants selectively target the gangue while our Talon collectors selectively target the ore during the coal flotation process. The use of our reagents can improve yields which can result in an increase in plant profits.”
Not that it much matters, but Dennis Kennedy was formerly with Freedom Industries (here, here), is now at Georgia-Pacific (here), and sits on the board of the University of Kentucky’s Mining Engineering Foundation (here, here, here).
More to the point, Georgia-Pacific’s association with Freedom Industries continued from 2008 on as recent new reports have laid out. Georgia-Pacific is a giant paper company with a pock-marked environmental record of its own [LINK]. It is owned by Koch Industries. Koch Industries is operated by the Koch Brothers. If you don’t know about the Kochs you can check out this great new movie they’re starring in that will be in theaters this Spring:
What was that Mitch McMantra again?
So look at who’s supporting him, and reach your own conclusions.
The Koch Brothers and Koch Industries have given Mitch McConnell something like $140,000 over the years [LINK].
Just a taste to get you hooked.
And meanwhile… a recent headline from ThinkProgress:
Federal and state investigators learned Tuesday that an additional chemical that wasn’t previously identified was in the tank that leaked Jan. 9 at the Freedom Industries tank farm, just upstream from West Virginia American Water’s regional drinking water intake.
On Thursday in Charleston, West Virginia a chemical spill contaminated the water of the state capital and the Kanawha Valley, affecting 300,000 people.
The West Virginia Department of Emergency Management warned West Virginians not to drink, bathe or even boil the water. The only thing they said it was good for was flushing commodes and putting out fires.
The company is called Freedom Industries. They make products for the coal industry — the chemical that poured into the state’s drinking water is used to clean coal once it’s been extracted from the earth.
The spill happened Thursday and at first Freedom Industries claimed it was but a minor issue.
On Thursday in Washington, DC — at the same time the severity of the spill was first becoming clear — Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul went to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama as he announced his new “Promise Zones” initiative.
Obama’s “Promise Zones” partner the federal government with local communities and businesses to “create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety.”
Among the first five zones is Southeastern Kentucky — and that’s why McConnell and Paul were at the White House… to graciously accept this handout from the federal government being crammed down the throats of the good people of rural Kentucky.
While simultaneously accepting this help from Obama, Mitch McConnell could not help but add this caveat [LINK]:
“There is no doubt that Eastern Kentucky is a region that has suffered enormous hardship in recent years – much of it unfortunately, related to the very same administration’s ‘war’ on coal families.”
The “War on Coal” is a fabrication, of course — one even Eastern Kentucky congressman Hal Rogers seems to be abandoning [LINK] — created by the coal industry and the Republican Party to mask the true reasons for what is a very real exacerbation of hardship in Eastern Kentucky (and West Virginia).
They blame Obama and government safety regulations for wrecking a coal industry which is actually being wrecked by the very low price of natural gas and the much lower cost of extracting coal in other parts of the country.
The “War on Coal” is also a strained metaphor. If Mitch McConnell believes the United States Government has declared a “War on Coal” what does that make the coal companies?
In the “War on Drugs” those who fight the US Government are called “Cartels.” In the “War on Terror” those forces that resist the US Government are called “Insurgents.”
Is West Virginia’s Freedom Industries an insurgent group committing acts of war in retaliation against the United States Government’s undeclared but supposedly real war?
Perhaps only Mitch McConnell could answer that question.
The reality is much simpler. Federal safety regulations are necessary to protect people from reckless behavior by a toxic industry. And obviously the government isn’t allocating enough resources to inspections
Mitch McConnell has made opposition to the EPA a central plank in his re-election campaign. McConnell has sought repeatedly to undermine its authority to protect citizens and has proposed bills to, among other things, gut the Clean Water Act.
Last Summer the GOP-led House passed a bill to slash EPA funding by 34% [LINK]. Over the past two preceding years, Congress has cut the EPA’s budget 18% — without accounting for additional sequestration cuts — effectively “kneecapping” the EPA’s ability to enforce its enforcement abilities [LINK].
All this gets us back, in a roundabout sort of way, to Freedom Industries, the company responsible for what the tyrannical Obama administration has declared a “disaster.”
Not much is known about Freedom Industries. One of their executives has evaded federal taxes and plead guilty to selling 10 ounces of cocaine. Another, Denny Farrell, is the organizer of the associated company, Etowah River Terminal. [LINK]
Etowah River Terminal’s website features photographs of the Freedom Industries site where the spill occurred [LINK].
On the site’s about page it states:
The facility complies with all Federal, State, and local requirements for both air and water quality. In addition, Etowah River Terminal works closely with and is approved to receive maritime vessels from the U.S. Coast Guard.
All operations and management personnel from the former Pennzoil facility were retained by Etowah River Terminal. The same conscientious, safety-first, operating procedures are used by Etowah River Terminal employees.
Mr. Farrell has supported Republican causes in the past:
One of Mr. Farrell’s partner in Etowah River Terminal is William Tis [LINK]. Mr. Tis runs Accretion Technologies, a Pennsylvania subsidiary of Freedom Industries [LINK].
Ahead of Mitch McConnell’s last re-election campaign, Mr. Tis gave $5,000 to Bluegrass Committee PAC.
Mitch McConnell established Bluegrass Committee in 1989 and uses the funds deposited there to cultivate his continued hold on power over the Republican Party [LINK, LINK].
And the man listed as “Manager” for Freedom Industries is J. Clifford Forrest [LINK]. Mr. Forrest — or “James” — is the head of Rosebud Mining, a Pennsylvania company. He’s a heavy funder of Republican candidates and in November 2012 gave $2,500 to Mitch McConnell’s 2014 re-election effort [LINK]:
There’s that old saying, “Freedom isn’t Free.” For Freedom Industries, the “war on coal” costs money and for Mitch McConnell, the “war on coal” earns him money.
Just a month ago, McConnell took to the Senate floor to (again) declare his “War on the War on Coal,” blasting the EPA, claiming that Appalachia is “being ravaged by the EPA’s excessive, overly burdensome regulations on coal.” [LINK]
As for McConnell’s opponent in the upcoming election, Alison Lundergan Grimes, she’s campaigning across the state of Kentucky telling voters: “I am the pro-coal candidate and at the end of this I will be the pro-coal senator.” [LINK]
And according to an op-ed she wrote and published about a month ago [LINK], the real problem with Mitch McConnell is that he hasn’t done enough to protect the coal industry from “burdensome and unnecessary regulations.”
Regardless of Mitch McConnell’s empty claims, the difficulties that beset coal are not simply the result of the regulatory work of one political faction or party. After all, it was President Richard Nixon who got the Environmental Protection Agency created and the federal Clean Air Act enacted in 1970, and it was President George H.W. Bush who pressed successfully to toughen the Clean Air Act in 1990, amendments which Mitch McConnell supported. I will oppose burdensome and unnecessary regulations….”
To understand more about what’s going on in West Virginia, and how its affecting people there, watch this excellent 36 hour recap:
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth does great work. If you’re a lapsed member, a person who wants to be a member, a person with a good heart or already a member — now’s a great time to keep KFTC powering forward. They are shaping Kentucky’s future and they could use your help to do it. If not them, think about who will.
You can DONATE by clicking on this awesome green button:
Or you can get more personal and support one of KFTC’s amazing legion of PowerBuilders — You can go to this page and click through the KFTC members to read their personal stories, find out why KFTC is important to them and then you can support one (or two) of them.
Some of them — like Beth Bissmeyer — have already hit their goals, while others are working hard to hit their marks, like:
So Reggie Thomas won the 13th District Special Election. Republican Big Mike Johnson got 851 votes, Independent Richard Moloney got 2,617 and Thomas, the Democrat, received 4,040 votes.
Moloney lost by 1,423 votes in a Special Election in which 7,500 people voted — an 11% turnout. Thomas had the advantage of the Democratic Party establishment — donors and volunteers. Moloney’s big advantage was his Herald Leader endorsement and — in theory — the disgruntled middle ground between the two parties and those on the Left tired of and annoyed with the KDP.
Obviously there were many factors contributing to the Thomas victory. One of those factors was the contributors to Mr. Moloney’s campaign.As we explored on Friday and on Monday, the Moloney campaign took some big checks from some big-time GOP donors — the most notable of whom is Terry Forcht, the banker for the Karl Rove far right Super PAC, American Crossroads. Forcht, Rove and American Crossroads pumped nearly $200 million into the 2012 Presidential election in an ultimately futile (and mildly amusing) attempt to swing buy the election for Mr. Romney.
The presence of Mr. Rove’s bagman in the Moloney campaign’s donor rolls did nothing to endear Moloney to the voters of the 13th and obviously he needed every single vote. The Thomas campaign picked up on this and released a campaign ad slamming Moloney for taking the Karl Rove-aligned money.
While we thought the ad itself was lazy, misleading and ridiculous, the stank of Karl Rove is hard to wash off once you’ve been rolled around in it. The video had over 5,500 views by the time the polls closed yesterday and Moloney got crushed. Here it is if you missed it:
It is obvious that while the Moloney campaign sorely needed the thousands of dollars Terry Forcht and Co. provided, the fact that they provided that money to Moloney was ultimately more costly than it was worth. In a sense, Terry Forcht spent money not buying votes but losing them.
And that of course is part of the equation in financing a campaign –
Who are you willing to take money from?
What do they want for it?
What will the voters think of it?
In the end, the candidate must make a wager — Maybe the money can help them get lucky.
Re-connect with old friends from the campaign, talk with Mayor Gray about how we can keep Lexington moving in the right direction, and learn how you can get involved in the campaign in 2014!
Mayor Gray is running for re-election. Obviously B&P championed his first run for office and while there are several areas where we feel he could do better (another time) and several areas where we feel like he’s done great (another time), we would be remiss if we didn’t follow up on the Terry Forcht thread in all this.
As we mentioned last Friday, Richard Moloney’s not the only Democrat getting dunked in the Terry Forcht golden shower — the Thomas ad hilariously shows Steve Beshear seconds after impugning Moloney with Rove despite the fact Behshear himself has taken funds from Karl Rove’s banker.
Jim Gray is the Mayor of Lexington and the mayoral race is nonpartisan. For the purposes of his campaign, he’s not a member of either party. The reality is, of course, that Jim Gray is a Democrat.
Gray does not yet have an official opponent in the Mayor race of 2014 though some folks have hinted at running… in sort of the same way Applebee’s proclaims itself “the neighborhood grill” despite the fact it’s a generic chain restaurant serving up frozen dinners, these potential candidates suggest that people are asking them to run. Maybe they are and maybe they will.
In preparation for that, Gray is raising funds for his re-election.
In the post last Friday, we mentioned Jim Gray had taken $3,000 from the Forcht money roll. That wasn’t quite right.
In the 3rd Quarter — ending September 30th — Gray raised $85,970. Almost three quarters of that money — $64,000 — came from 64 people who each gave the $1,000 max.
And 12.7% of the total haul was collected in just one day.
On September 27th, 2013, three days before the close of the quarter, Gray got eleven checks, $1,000 apiece. One from the Stoll Keenon Ogden PAC, one each from the Lynn Imaging people, and one from Orrin Ingram — a “diversified products and services” magnate, Ingram, who lives in Tennessee, gave $50K to a Romney SuperPAC, hosted a fundraiser for Romney at his house and was a member of Romney’s Tennessee finance team.
Gray also got a $1,000 check from Terry Forcht. And a $1,000 check from Marion Forcht. And a $1,000 check from Ted Forcht.
And then there was a $1,000 check from Forcht Group CFO Roger Aslip, a $1,000 check from Forcht Group President Debbie Reynolds, and a $1,000 check from Forcht Group General Counsel Rodney Shockley.
And a $1,000 check from Shockley’s retired wife, Laurie.
That’s $7,000 from the Forcht machine on one day.
We suggested to Richard Moloney that he give the Forcht money back or risk the ire of the 13th District voters. Moloney didn’t listen — though it’s very possible he would have lost in any event, it certainly would’ve been much closer. And we’re not playing favorites here:
Mayor Gray should return Terry Forcht’s money.
Obviously Gray’s running for a citywide office and not just in a fiercely Democratic enclave so the potential damage of the Rove/American Crossroads association is lessened. It’s lessened still further by the current lack of opponent and the likelihood that an opponent would come from the right and not the left (and like a microwaved half-priced appetizer, probably wouldn’t be worth it unless you were stuck in an airport and there was no Chili’s Too… and even then).
Still, Mayor Gray should return Terry Forcht’s money.
In case you’ve missed it, Terry Forcht runs a bank. That bank is the nexus point for the Karl Rove right wing Super PAC American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS. Aside from his work with Rove’s American Crossroads, Forcht is a big time funder of other GOP causes. This past spring, he hosted a fundraiser for the GOP/Mitch McConnell:
Now, the fact that Forcht hosted a fundraiser for Republicans and is a die-hard Republican donor doesn’t mean Mayor Gray shouldn’t take his money.
The fact that Forcht’s bank handles tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars for the Rove SuperPAC is a better reason for the Mayor to not take Forcht’s money.
Yet still — that is not why Jim Gray should give Terry Forcht his money back.
Terry Forcht gives money because Terry Forcht has an agenda. He has a political agenda. And that political agenda is not inline with the people, politics or needs of Lexington. Terry Forcht isn’t involved in paying for politicians to run for office because it’s fun. He didn’t give Moloney a $1,000 check because he wanted Moloney’s opponent to smear him over it. Terry Forcht wants something more.
And yet, still, that is not why Jim Gray should give Terry Forcht his money back.
Jim Gray doesn’t need Terry Forcht’s money. That’s the thing here.
Gray has no opponent. Gray has plenty of money. If you subtract even just that $1,000 check from just Terry Forcht, Gray is already well on his way to having plenty of money to win the election — and, again, he doesn’t have an opponent, and so far at least, he doesn’t even have much vocal opposition. At this point in both the Newberry and Isaac administrations, the wheels had come off and the sitting Mayor’s were just that, sitting in the driver’s seat telling people to get on board. Gray has no such problem.
So what does Terry Forcht want? And why would Jim Gray take his money?
Or he could just give it directly to Terry, a gift to help the bank pay off the $500,000 a jury just awarded a Louisville couple.
In the end, it comes down to this: Money can buy a lot of things (like politicians for example) but money can’t buy you love, it won’t buy you happiness, and sometimes all it really gets you is just more problems.
If you go to Buster’s, wish Mayor Gray good luck over his next four years, and then tell him what he should do with Terry Forcht’s money.