Coal Industry Puts More Cash Into Barr Campaign

Oct 15, 2012

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- The coal industry continued to provide financial support to Republican Andy Barr over the past three months in his race against Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler in Kentucky's 6th District.

Barr filed a financial report Monday with the Federal Election Commission showing that coal executives and their political action committees contributed at least $45,000 to his campaign since July 1. That's on top of at least $40,000 contributed from April through June.

Barr has raised more than $1.8 million for his general election bid, but he still trails Chandler, whose fundraising topped $2 million as of Sept. 30.

Coal has been a major issue in the race even though the 6th District covers an area with no active mines and is better known for thoroughbred horse racing.

Barr has used men dressed in miners' garb in TV spots in hopes of winning over a sizeable bloc of Appalachian transplants who came to Lexington and other central Kentucky cities in search of work.

"It's not surprising that Barr takes so much money from coal," said Chandler campaign manager Eric Nagy. "Despite Barr being in the pocket of the coal industry, Ben Chandler's record proves that he's a strong advocate for coal jobs and Kentucky's low cost energy advantage."

Republicans have tried to paint Chandler as a surrogate to President Barack Obama, who has been sharply criticized in the coalfields for his administration's environmental policies. The tactic has left Chandler's campaign coffers bereft of coal industry contributions. Chandler's list of contributors is heavy on farmers, attorneys, doctors and business leaders.

Coal industry executive Heath Lovell, who has been featured in a series of TV political ads, was listed on Barr's latest report as a major contributor. Lovell gave $2,500 to Barr during the last reporting period.

A downturn in Kentucky's mining industry put some 2,000 people out of work over the past year, and Barr has tried to blame that on Chandler and Obama.

"Kentuckians are eager to elect someone who cares about their jobs and their future," said Barr spokesman David Host.

Chandler, however, insists that he's no enemy of coal. He opposed Obama earlier this year with a call for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to back off policies that have made it difficult for Kentucky companies to open or expand coal mines.

Coal became even more significant this year when congressional redistricting shifted the 6th District further eastward into the Appalachian foothills, adding voters who identify more with mining than horse farming.

Chandler and Barr are engaged in Kentucky's most competitive general election congressional race. Barr, a Lexington attorney, sought a rematch with Chandler after losing to him two years ago by less than 700 votes.

Chandler, a former attorney general who has served Central Kentucky in Congress since 2004, benefitted from this year's redistricting. State lawmakers opted to remove some traditionally Republican communities and replace them with Democratic strongholds.

The political makeup of the district is now 289,420 Democrats to 162,652 Republicans. Before redistricting, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 284,524 to 170,678.

While that's a relatively slight realignment overall, it could be significant if the race is close again.