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Published: 10/9/2012

Ohio Dems seek coal-firm probe

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS—The Ohio Democratic Party on Monday urged federal and state prosecutors to investigate whether the largest privately owned coal company in the country illegally forced employees and vendors to contribute to presidential contender Mitt Romney and other mostly Republican candidates.

“Give they do, because they certainly want to keep their jobs and understand, in our estimation, that if they don’t give they will be treated much differently as far as their employment is concerned,’’ party Chairman Chris Redfern said.

He has asked Cleveland-based U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach, Cuyahoga County Acting Prosecutor Tim McGinty, and the Federal Elections Commission to look into whether Cleveland-based Murray Energy Corp. and its CEO, Robert E. Murray, engaged in extortion, money laundering, and racketeering, or made illegal direct corporate contributions.

Beneficiaries of Murray’s generosity include Mr. Romney, U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel, Gov. John Kasich, and other current and past GOP candidates, the complaint alleges. In all, the complaint claims Murray contributed $720,000 to Ohio state candidates and millions to federal candidates.

Mike McKown, Murray Energy’s general counsel, could not be reached for comment.

On Aug. 14, Mr. Romney led a rally at Murray’s Century Mine near Beallsville in southeast Ohio surrounded by miners, many of them with dust-smudged faces, as he accused President Obama of waging a war on coal. Footage of the rally was later featured in a TV ad that aired in Ohio and West Virginia.

Later, some of those miners told a West Virginia radio station that Murray closed the mine that day to accommodate the rally and required the miners to attend without pay. Liberal advocacy group Progress Ohio filed a complaint last month with the FEC in connection with that event.

The complaints filed Monday go further, arguing that Mr. Murray and his company pressured employees to contribute to the company’s political action committee through automatic payroll deductions and attendance at fund-raisers for state and federal Republican candidates.

"It remains a widely accepted fact by Democrats and Republicans alike that President Obama has spent the past four years waging a war on coal that has devastated middle-class families and coal communities in Ohio,’’ Romney spokesman Chris Maloney said. “These gimmicks by Barack Obama’s left-wing allies are nothing more than an ineffective and pathetic attempt to distract voters away from that reality."

The complaint points to a memo purportedly written by Mr. Murray on March 7 to complain that employee attendance at the fund-raisers has been “very bad.”

“What is so difficult about asking a well-paid, salaried employee to give us three (3) hours of his/her time every two months?’’ the memo reads. “More importantly, we are going to lose what friends we have in Washington, D.C. at this very critical time, while mines are closing all around us and Obama has eliminated forty-five (45), 3-unit, coal-fired power plants.’’

At least some of the allegations are based on an article that appeared in The New Republic magazine that featured allegations from unidentified Murray employees.

Mr. Romney has accused Mr. Obama of waging war on coal through pollution regulations while spending billions in taxpayer money on renewable technologies like wind and solar.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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