Love, War, and Politics 2: Coal and Kentucky

If you judge that West Virginia’s coal politics are slimy this electoral season, take a look at Kentucky.

In an earlier blog posting, I took exception to the way Republican-oriented outside groups were sliming the West Virginia Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Natalie Tennant. Now it’s time to turn the tables, look at neighboring Kentucky, and examine the egregious lies by the Democratic Senate nominee Alison Lundergran Grimes directed at her opponent, the incumbent Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. I use the word “lies” purposefully, as a fitting description.

As is the case in West Virginia, coal is King in Kentucky, so the two candidates are jostling over who is closer to coal, McConnell or Grimes. It’s hard to get closer to coal than McConnell, who has been a stalwart supporter of his state’s major industry during his entire career in the Senate.

But Grimes is trying with a recent TV ad asserting, “What Mitch McConnell doesn’t want you to know is that he and his wife personally took $600,000 from anti-coal groups, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-coal foundation.” Golly, how could that be true?

Well, it isn’t, as detailed by Glenn Kessler, the hard-working and non-partisan fact checker at the Washington Post, who awarded Grimes “four Pinocchios,” his top award for untruthful and misleading advertising.

As Kessler explains, the basis of the ad from Grimes goes to the work of McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, former Reagan Administration labor secretary, Peace Corps director, and head of the United Way. In 2012, Chao joined the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ board, with a modest stipend of $9,400 per year. This was a year after the philanthropy agreed to fund the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” project for $50 million over four years. Chao had nothing to do with that funding decision, nor did the board of the organization.

Where did the rest of the $600,000 allegation come from? Chao served on the board of San Francisco-based bank Wells Fargo, where she earned over $600,000 from 2012-2104. Well Fargo is a bank, that’s all. Is it anti-coal? Hardly. It is pro-profit.  But the Grimes campaign tried to link Chao to a 2006 Wells Fargo management decision to end investments in mountain-top removal mining projects. That was a decision that never came before the board, and occurred six years before Chao became affiliated with the bank.

According to a bank spokeswoman, Wells Fargo continues to invest in coal mining. “Given that we still finance coal companies, we would certainly not characterize ourselves as ‘anti-coal,’” she said.

Kessler concluded, “This is a fairly misleading and flimsy ad. In both instances, policies were undertaken before Chao joined the respective boards – and in any case, the boards of directors had no input in developing these policies.”

The Kentucky race is surprisingly close, which tends to bring out political blood lust in the competing candidates. It leads the campaigns’ operatives to push outrageous prevarications in their campaign messages.