Massey CEO Don Blankenship Spent Millions to Influence State Elections
Don Blankenship threatened reporter during ABC News investigation.
Apr. 8, 2010 — -- Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, has long had a lot of influence in West Virginia. The top executive of the company that owns the mine where 25 miners died this week looms large in state affairs both because of Massey 's economic importance and because of his own penchant for political bluster. But in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Blankenship might be wielding too much influence, after he spent $3 million of his own money to get a judge elected to a West Virginia court that was ruling on a Massey-related case.
As detailed in an ABC News investigation, Blankenship vacationed on the Riviera with one West Virginia Supreme Court Justice and underwrote an ad campaign supporting the election of another while a $50 million judgment against Massey Energy was before the court. Blankenship's apparently successful multi-million-dollar attempt to change the composition of the court became the basis of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision -- and the source of a slew of controversial television ads.
"Don Blankenship prides himself on being tough and talking tough," said David Fawcett, a Pittsburgh attorney who has tangled with Blankenship more than once. "He's tried to take that tough guy approach into the political and judicial arenas."
In 2002, Fawcett helped win a $50 million judgment against Massey in a West Virginia court for several smaller mining companies who claimed that Massey Energy had driven them out of business by defaulting on contracts and committing fraud. Two years later, as Massey was appealing the verdict, Blankenship spent about $3 million on campaign ads meant to knock Justice Warren McGraw off the West Virginia Supreme Court. The commercials accused McGraw of "letting a child rapist go free" and of being too "radical" for West Virginia.
McGraw lost the 2004 election by six points to challenger Brent Benjamin. While Blankenship contributed only a small sum to Benjamin's campaign, he was the principal funder of a political action committee called For the Sake of the Kids that produced the attack ads against McGraw. (Blankenship had less success in 2006, when he spent millions more of his own cash trying to oust Democrats from the state legislature. Democrats gained six seats instead.)