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Coal industry PACs raise $2.8M in 2017-18 cycle, boost GOP candidates

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The coal industry's top political action committees have raised nearly $2.8 million during the 2017-18 campaign period leading up to the midterms, an election in which Democrats are thought to have a good chance to take back the U.S. House of Representatives after two years under a president who has championed the coal industry.

Ten political action committees have spent $2.9 million during the campaign period and still had $1.2 million on hand as of Oct. 16, according to Federal Election Commission data from Jan. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2018.

The United Mine Workers of America-Coal Miners Political Action Committee was the top fundraiser and donor among the bunch, raising $699,000 and spending $986,000 over the period, topping the more than $800,000 it spent during the 2016 presidential election cycle.

The PAC gave money to congressional candidates on both sides of the aisle largely in coal states, including West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

United Mine Workers of America spokesman Phil Smith said more than 30% of the PAC's contributions went to Republicans, likely more than most other labor unions. The committee looks for candidates who will make sure the union's members keep their jobs, he said, but its main goal is to support candidates who "are supporting our fight to preserve our retirees' pensions."

"That is the most important legislative battle we are engaged in right now, and it will remain so until we win that battle," he said.

Murray Energy Corp. Political Action Committee was the second-largest fundraiser and donor. The PAC raised $442,000, spent $549,000 and still had $130,000 remaining heading into the final weeks before the November election. The Ohio-based company's committee supported many Republicans running for office, including $15,000 given in July to U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, the Republican leading incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in a race to represent North Dakota. A GOP win in the Peace Garden State could help Republicans protect their slight majority in the chamber.

The PAC also gave $15,000 to Mike Braun, a former Republican Indiana state representative now challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly to represent the Hoosier State in the upper chamber of Congress.

"Murray Energy supports candidates that support the coal industry," said a spokesman for the company.

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Peabody Energy Corp. PAC gave thousands to congressional candidates on both sides of the aisle all over the country as well as several other political action committees. In total, the PAC has spent nearly $127,000, up from the $90,000 it spent during the entire 2016 election cycle.

The National Mining Association's coal industry PAC raised $207,000 and spent almost $195,000 so far, contributing largely to Republicans vying for congressional seats all over the nation. The PAC raised more than $281,000 and spent $290,000 during the 2016 cycle.

Consol Energy Inc. PAC raised about $189,000, spending roughly $227,000 during the period. The Pennsylvania-headquartered company has given to several state-level campaigns in the state as well as congressional Republican campaigns in other coal states.

Zachery Smith, manager of external affairs, said the company-sponsored PAC is funded by voluntary employee contributions.

“The PAC generally makes contributions to support candidates who have taken a positive stance on issues of importance to the company and industry,” he wrote in an email. “We consider factors such as the constituent relationship of the candidate or the position of the individual within the structure of government.”

North American Coal Corp. PAC, which has spent $114,000, dropped $25,000 on Cramer's Senate bid in September as well as $5,000 for Republican Kelly Armstrong's campaign for North Dakota's sole seat in the U.S. House.

Alliance Coal LLC PAC contributed to many Republicans' congressional campaigns all over the country, spending almost $310,000 over the cycle. Arch Coal Inc. PAC contributed largely to West Virginia and Wyoming Republicans, candidates seeking to represent states where the company mines. Contura Energy Inc. PAC supported several Appalachian Republican statehouse campaigns as well as coal-state Republicans seeking federal seats.

Cloud Peak Energy Resources LLC Employee PAC has primarily focused its 2018 contributions on Republicans running in western coal states.

Several of the company-sponsored PACs contributed thousands of dollars to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is dedicated to strengthening the Republican majority in the Senate, according to the committee's website.