TNR causes trouble for coal baron

Exposé on pressuring employees to make campaign contributions stirs inquiry

The New Republic stirred up a bit of trouble for coal baron Robert Murray by revealing the aggressiveness with which he has pressured his employees to donate to his conservative political pets and projects.

In the magazine’s hard-hitting October 5 exposé of the situation at Murray Energy and its subsidiaries, Alec MacGillis,reported that:

The accounts of two sources who have worked in managerial positions at the firm, and a review of letters and memos to Murray employees, suggest that coercion may also explain Murray staffers’ financial support for Romney. Murray, it turns out, has for years pressured salaried employees to give to the Murray Energy political action committee (PAC) and to Republican candidates chosen by the company. Internal documents show that company officials track who is and is not giving. The sources say that those who do not give are at risk of being demoted or missing out on bonuses, claims Murray denies.

That riled up Ohio Democrats (where Murray Energy has its headquarters) who riled up local news outlets. The Toledo Blade reported this week that:

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.

Cleveland’s Plain Dealer and Steubenville’s WTOV-TV kicked out similar pieces, all of which credited The New Republic. It’s nice to see them following the story, but as my colleagues at CJR’s Swing States Project pointed out last week, local reporting has generally not kept up with the campaign message war around coal that’s been playing out from Ohio to Virginia. In this most recent case, too, the local newsrooms let a national outlet do the legwork and while they wrote follow-up stories. Next time, the locals should be out front.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard. Tags: , , , , ,