America's Last Coal Baron Has a Lot of Super PAC Cash to Give
Back in March, Robert Murray, one of America’s last remaining coal barons and “the sine qua non of climate denying,” hosted a fundraiser for Texas senator Ted Cruz at Wheeling, West Virginia’s White Palace. “I have not picked a candidate, but I do know that Ted Cruz needs some money,” he said at the time. As it turns out, Murray has quite a bit of money to give: FEC filings show that Murray’s super PAC, the Murray Energy Corporation Political Action Committee, has been stockpiling funds since the beginning of last year—it ended the first quarter of 2016 with $333,361 cash on hand.
Since it began raising funds this election cycle, Murray PAC has spent little more than $86,000, the largest portion of which ($36,000) went towards adjusting the PAC’s cash on hand numbers—basically, an accounting error categorized as a disbursement. According to its most recent filing, it only spent $3,000 between January and March.
That is not to say Robert Murray and his personal super PAC haven’t made any contributions in this cycle at all, however: Last year, Murray PAC made two $5,000 contributions to Cruz for President, in April; in March, Murray PAC donated $5,000 to RICKPAC, which supported the now-defunct Rick Perry campaign, in March. That same month, Murray made his only individual contribution of the presidential campaign season thus far—also $5,000, also to RICKPAC. Murray told the Columbus Business Journal in December that his fellow Ohioan, John Kasich, was the best-qualified candidate, based on past experience. “He would make a fine president,” Murray said. Kasich is a “very good man. I like him a lot.” Nevertheless, the governor is yet to receive any of Murray’s money.
Normally, Robert Murray is less circumspect about who should receive his support: In 2012, following an investigative report by Alec MacGillis, then of the New Republic, the FEC opened a still-ongoing investigation into whether Murray intimidated his employees into contributing to the company PAC. (The committee’s treasurer, Mike Ruble, is corporate human resources director for the Murray Energy Corporation. He did not respond to a request for comment.)
After President Obama was re-elected, Murray laid off 54 people at American Coal and 102 people at Utah American Energy, two of Murray Energy’s subsidiaries. He blamed the administration’s “war on coal.” Shares in the St. Clarksville, Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp—the largest privately-owned coal company in the United States—are split evenly among Murray, his wife, and his three sons; however, Murray holds the only voting shares, the Wall Street Journal reported last year, and intends to keep them until he is “incapacitated.” Altogether, Murray Energy employs some 7,500 people.
A Murray Energy spokesman was quick to clarify that the fundraiser Murray held for Cruz was a personal one, however. “This is a personal fundraiser organized by Mr. Murray, and Murray Energy Corp. has nothing to do with it and any comment on it,” Gary Broadbent said in a statement provided to the Wheeling News-Register. “Mr. Robert E. Murray has not, as yet, formally endorsed any Presidential candidate. He has, however, supported two of them, including Sen. Cruz.”
Cruz—and Perry, but he’s dead now—would be a logical candidate for someone like Murray to support. In December, Cruz, who is the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, convened a hearing titled “Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate.” In an interview earlier this year, the Texas senator said that Obama administration has waged an “unrelenting war on coal—and for that matter our entire energy production.” He continued: “There is no industry on earth that the Obama administration loathes more than the coal industry.”
Murray himself has adamantly resisted regulatory incursions into the coal industry, even after a collapse at one of his mines, in Utah, left nine people dead. (Six miners were trapped in an initial collapse; three rescue workers were trapped in a later collapse. The mine was sealed with the miners bodies still inside.) In fact, Murray filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA in 2014, alleging that the agency’s head, Gina McCarthy, “has continued to administer and enforce the Clean Air Act in a manner that is causing coal mines to close, costing hard-working americans their jobs, and shifting employment away from areas rich in coal resources to areas with energy resources preferred by the Agency.”
In 2014, Jean Cochenour, a former foreman employed by Murray Energy Corp—through several layers of subsidiaries—sued Robert Murray, accusing him of firing her for failing to contribute to his super PAC or specific candidates. Murray, court documents alleged, “expects his management employees to support his personal political choices and he communicates his expectations to them by sending them letters...reminding them of his political preferences and of the importance of supporting those preferences in management meetings, and by telling those who attend the Murray defendants’ ‘college’ for managers that the managers are expected voluntarily contribute 1% of their salary to Mr. Murray’s political action committee.”
In a March 2012 memo sent to managers, Murray criticized the “lack of participation in our fundraising events,” which apparently occurred every other month:
Attached to that memo was a list of salaried employees Murray could not recall seeing at his fundraisers.
More recent documents included in the court filings show how Murray also requested that employees to contribute a redacted amount to a variety of federal and local candidates directly. “If you cannot give the requested amount, contribute what you can and join our evening, even if you cannot give at all,” one invitation to a May 19, 2014 fundraiser reads. None of the Murray Energy employees and former employees reached by Gawker were willing to discuss the allegations against Robert Murray.
Murray Energy and Cochenour reached a settlement agreement in August, but Murray is still fighting his lawsuit against the EPA over the Clean Air Act. The case was scheduled to go to trial this summer, but the start date conflicted with the Republican National Convention—Murray is a member of the host committee. His lawyers asked for the trial to be rescheduled. “Mr. Murray has commitments that require him to be in Cleveland,” his lawyers wrote. (A day later, they withdrew their motion: “Mr. Murray has been able to resolve the conflict which prohibited his attendance at trial.”)
Early last month, the Wilkes Barre Times-Leader reported, Murray addressed students at West Liberty University’s Gary E. West College of Business. Coal, he said, “is a local industry. It’s supported families in the Ohio Valley and tri-state area for generations. It’s vital to keeping low-cost, available, reliable electric power and that industry is being destroyed right here in our country.”
“You people are going to have to live through it. Reliable, low-cost electricity is a staple of life, and our federal government is destroying it,” he told students. “I care about my employees deeply. I had 8,400 last May 1. Today I have 5,100, and I know those 3,300 that I had to lay off in less than a year, most of them by name. Thank you, Barack Obama and Democrats, and thank you natural gas.”
On Monday, Murray Energy announced that it would be closing Powhatan No. 6 Mine—Murray’s first mine—in November.