With early voting now underway in West Virginia’s Republican primary election May 8, polls show that US Senate hopeful, former coal caliph and ex-con Donald ‘Don’ Leon Blankenship, who gave some in the Republican party agita, may not wind up the party’s nominee in the November election. But he’s all in and resorting to controversial tactics, like calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ‘Cocaine Mitch’ in a recent campaign ad and charging federal regulators blew up his coal mine, the 2010 Big Upper Branch explosion that claimed 29 lives. The ad which sparked controversy immediately was removed from the internet Tuesday morning.
In a statement Blankenship said McConnell’s familial ties to China, his wife is Elaine Chao and Blankenship alleges her father, “a large Chinese shipping” magnate “has given Mitch and his wife millions” and “the company was recently implicated in smuggling cocaine from Columbia to Europe, hidden aboard a company ship carrying foreign coal was $7 million dollars of cocaine and that is why we’ve deemed him ‘Cocaine Mitch.'”
Blankenship has nothing to lose at this point, he may be thinking. When he has more time on his hands and, at age 68, retirement is knocking at the door and political ouster, will he have enough money to kick back on?
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Born in Kentucky, Raised in West Virginia, the Coal Baron is Worth at Least $40 Million
Born in Stopover, Kentucky in 1950 but raised primarily in nearby West Virginia, Don Blankenship would end up as the chief of one of the nation’s largest coal companies, Massey Energy. He officially retired in 2010, eight months after one of the country’s deadliest coal mine disasters at Upper Big Branch mine, a mine he owned. Of the 31 coal miners underground at the time of the explosion, only two survived. Blankenship graduated from college in 1972 with a degree in accounting. He says after college, as a certified public accountant, he worked in the food industry, Keebler and Flower’s bakery. In 1982, he got his first job with Massey in 1982 and then, over the years, worked his way up to be the only person to run the company that was not a member of the Massey family. He is divorced with two adult children and three grandchildren.
2. Blankenship Was Paid Millions & Walked Away With Many Many Millions More. He’s Worth $40 Million, or More
Blankenship was said to be worth $40 million in 2015.
In 2009, the year before he left Massey, Blankenship was paid just shy of $18 million in salary. And, as ABC News reported in 2010, Blankenship got an obscenely lucrative retirement deal, a parachute so golden he’ll be on east street for life. Blankenship got a $2.7 check, a house, “millions more in deferred compensation, and a ‘salary continuation retirement benefit’ of $18,241-a-month payment, the latter was a 10-year deal so that expires in 2020.
But Footnoted.com reported in 2010 that Blankenship’s dale was far sweeter than was reported. Based on on SEC filings and other documents obtained by the website, he was to have received a $5.7 million pension, huge stock options, a $27.2 million payout from a “deferred-compensation account” and with the house, Massey agreed to pay taxes he would owe on it. Footnoted reported that in his last three years with the company, he got a total $38.2 million total compensation, almost $28 million of that in cash.
So no worries, he has a dinosaur-sized nest egg.
3. A Convicted Criminal, Blankenship Spent 1 Year in Prison. He Claimed he Was a ‘Political Prisoner’
A West Virginia-funded independent investigation found that the 2010 explosion at a Massey Energy’s Big Branch Coal mine that claimed the lives of 29 of 31 miners in the hole was a failure of basic coal mining practices and that Massey was directly responsible.
Blankenship was indicted in 2014 on numerous charges including lying to federal regulatory officials, but ultimately was found guilty in 2015 on a lesser charge of willfully violating safety standards. He was freed on $1 million bond until his sentencing in 2016 when he was ordered to serve 1 year in federal prison and pay a $250,000 fine. He appealed and lost and served the full year and was released in May of 2017.
Blankenship claimed he was unjustly charged, tried, convicted and sentenced.
“Politicians put me in prison for political and self-serving reasons. I am an American Political Prisoner,” he wrote from his Taft, California prison cell.
On his campaign website he wrote, “Over the past thirty years I have been threatened with death several times: had urine thrown on me: had eleven bullet holes shot into my office: had two cars smashed with ball bats and clubs while I was in them: been continually lied about: been the subject of several false books: been branded with multiple derogatory names: been sued numerous times: been slandered on national television many times: been subjected to continued ridicule by newspapers: been falsely accused of causing the Upper Big Branch (UBB) tragedy: been falsely arrested: endured a trial where I faced thirty years in prison for made up charges, and been put in federal prison for a misdemeanor.”
4. Former Federal Prisoner Blankenship Hoped to Head to Another Federal Building, Congress
Last month, March of 2018, the GOP, fearing the 2018 midterms could be a blue tsunami, also worried about the fringe Blankenship, coal king and federal ex-con. Republicans hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. But based on polls in late April, Blankenship’s senate dream ship may be sinking.
On his campaign website, Blankenship says that he is Don Blankenship’s opponents like to make sound bite statements such as “Don put profits before safety.” These types of statements are made to distract from the truth and to protect politicians who do nothing to make miners safer. The truth is that no one did more for coal miner safety than Don Blankenship and coal miners know it. Veteran coal miner Danny Muncy makes that point in this new ad.
In the final analysis, though, Blankenship likely doesn’t have a chance. Politico reported that Blankenship’s primary run is in the rear view mirror.
“With the primary two weeks away, the survey shows Blankenship, who spent a year in jail following the deadly 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine, falling far behind his more mainstream rivals, GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The poll found Morrisey leading with 24 percent, followed by Jenkins with 20 percent, and Blankenship trailing with 12 percent. Thirty-nine percent were undecided,” Politico reported.
5. Don Blankenship Has Had His Share of Scandals & Controversies, Most He Invited
Besides the coal mining disaster that he was held responsible for, Blankenship was sued by a former maid who accused him of was forced to quit her job because of abuse with evidence that was later called “un-refuted” when she tried to get unemployment benefits, which she ended up receiving. Unemployment is rarely given when someone quits a job. Blankenship was said to have grabbed her, verbally abused her and once, threw fast food at her when she got the order wrong.
Blankenship denies global warming or climate change exists. He says it’s a “normal cycle.”
And argues that environmentalists are either in it for the money or are Communists.
“Why should we trust a report by the United Nations? The United Nations includes countries like Venezuela, North Korea and Iran,” he wrote in 2009.
Blankenship has not shied away from making sexist and racist comments including disparaging remarks he made about Sen. Mitch McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao, who is Asian.
And Blankenship still maintains he was set up says the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is responsible for the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.