WASHINGTON – Employees of a major coal industry donor to Republican causes have raised complaints about their participation in an event earlier this month organized for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the crucial swing state of Ohio.
Several miners at Murray Energy’s Century coal mine in Beallsville, Ohio, contacted a nearby morning talk radio host, David Blomquist, over the last two weeks to say that they were forced to attend an Aug. 14 rally for Romney at the mine. Murray closed the mine the day of the rally, saying it was necessary for security and safety, then docked miners pay for missing work. Asked by WWVA radio’s Blomquist about the allegations on Monday’s show, Murray chief operating officer Robert Moore said: “Attendance was mandatory but no one was forced to attend the event.”
The Century mine is owned by Robert Murray, an enthusiastic Romney supporter and major contributor to the Republican Party on his own and through Murray Energy, one of the largest private coal companies in the U.S. Murray and his wife have given Republican candidates a total of $471,185 since the 2008 election, including the maximum of $5,000 each to Romney this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Additionally, employees of Murray Energy and its subsidiaries contributed almost $1.5 million to Republicans over the same period.
Murray Energy is among the biggest employers in the coal-rich Ohio Valley, and worries run high there that the increased use of natural gas at the nation’s power plants and more stringent air pollution regulations are gradually throttling coal. Robert Murray has consistently hammered President Barack Obama for allegedly waging “a war on coal,” a refrain Romney and the Republican Party have taken up. But he has denied foisting political activity on anyone.
“Nobody was ordered to attend,” said Murray, in an interview in Tampa, Fla., with a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer covering the convention. “Nobody knows who attended and who didn’t. But I can tell you this: We had 3,000 people there, it was a great day, our people enjoyed it. Barack Obama is destroying their lives, their livelihoods. These people are scared, and they came out in droves to see Mitt Romney, and that’s what it was all about.”
The Romney campaign declined to comment, referring questions to Murray Energy.
At the rally, Romney stood before a wall of hard-hat wearing, gray-uniformed miners, some with their faces still smudged with coal dust, as he lambasted Obama administration policies he says are intent on bankrupting coal.
Employees who contacted Blomquist and others in the industry contend that the August event is the latest example of the lengths Murray is willing to go to back his political priorities. In the days just after the rally, about seven or eight mine workers, supposedly independent of one another, emailed and called Blomquist to tell him about the circumstances surrounding the rally. The radio host, known as “Bloomdaddy,” said once he began talking about the issue on the air, he was contacted by other current and former Murray employees, bringing the number of those sharing the same concerns to 15 to 20 people.