REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN JIM RENACCI (OH-16):
BOB MURRAY’S LAWYERS’ JOBS JUST GOT HARDER…

June 19th, 2017

[Update @ 1413 on 22 June: Surprise, surprise, Murray is suing John Oliver and HBO.]

[Update at 1042—Jake Nevins offers his take in John Oliver on the coal industry: ‘Trump needs to stop lying to miners’ for The Guardian.]

So, at the time I posted John Oliver’s latest, the video had only been viewed 121,520 times, garnering 11,888 likes and 271 dislikes (a number, I’ll assume, representing all of Robert Edward Murray’s attorneys’, their staffs and various other Murray Energy lackeys. For comparison, last week’s show on Brexit has racked up 4,826,883 views, 100,601 likes and 3,697 dislikes (likely more people who even knew who Robert Edward Murray or Murray Energy were before last night).

Oliver’s mention of The Chagrin Valley Times and the Akron Beacon Journal definitely caught my attention. Murray sued the first paper in 2014 because:

On December 17, 2012, in front of the headquarters of Murray Energy in Pepper Pike, Ohio, Patriots for Change held an organized protest decrying the firing of 156 employees of various companies owned by Robert Murray the day after the presidential election. Protesters alleged that Murray fired these individuals as a political stunt. Sali A. McSherry, a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times, interviewed protestors and sought comments from Murray and Murray Energy. She was able to contact Gary Broadbent, an employee of Murray Energy. He provided her with a statement from Murray Energy as well as statements from Robert Murray. An article appeared in the newspaper on December 20, 2012, reporting on the protest and the response from Murray and Murray Energy. On January 3, 2013, an editorial written by Editor Emeritus David Lange appeared in the Chagrin Valley Times. It was critical of Murray and other appellants. The commentary was published in conjunction with a cartoon unfavorably depicting Murray that was penned by Ron Hill.

He lost his suit in 2015 when the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

The Akron Beacon Journal was the recipient of a suit from Murray some 14 years earlier after the paper published a front-page story headlined: Mine Owner Isn’t the Shy, Quiet Type. That suit was settled four years late.

Murray’s appeal narrowed its focus down to four specific statements in the newspaper article. His attorneys claimed the defendants had not provided sufficient evidence to back up the truth of the statements, and therefore didn’t deserve summary judgment.

The four statements about Murray, or attributed to Murray in the story were:

* ‘The only thing I want is a long line at my funeral. I’m sick. I bought my cemetery plot.’ (Murray supposedly said this.)

* ‘If the Boich brothers were the quite voice of coal in the 1990s, ‘Honest Bob’ Murray — as his competitors jokingly call him — was the loud one.’

* Even his (i.e. Murray’s) friends roll their eyes at his hyperbole.’

* ‘He (Murray) tends to exaggerate a good bit.’ (This was attributed to coal lobbyist Neal Tostenson.)

The appeals court found merit in the claim that the first statement was defamatory per se (in and of itself), because it suggested that Murray might be near death, and this perception could hurt his business prospects among people who view Ohio Valley Coal as a ‘one-man operation.’

Considering the next three statements as possible attacks on Murray’s personal integrity, the appeals court found that taking them together could give the impression that Murray is dishonest in his business dealings. Therefore, the court ruled, these three statements are also defamatory per se.

After the appeals court remanded the case back to trial court, the two sides reached a settlement, after what McKown called ‘a delicate and difficult negotiation.’

At the time of the original suit, Murray promised in a press release that:

[T]he first $39,960,000 of any award will be distributed to the 444 employees of his companies in Belmont County—which works out to $90,000 per employee. Any remaining monies, it states, will be put into a charitable foundation to benefit the charities and citizens of Belmont, Guernsey, Harrison, Jefferson, Monroe, and Noble counties.

In an online search this morning I was unable to find mention of any such distribution.

I’ll keep looking.

Now, you might ask, what does my congressman, James Bupkis* Renacci have to do with any of this? Back on 4 February I fisked an op-ed piece in my hometown newspaper, The Marietta Times, from Renacci in support of removing vital environmental restrictions from coal companies. In that op-ed, Renacci specifically mention Murray Energy:

In 2015, Murray Energy was forced to lay off thousands of workers.

In my February post I wondered why Renacci was interested in Coal in general and Murray Energy in particular. I wrote:

Why is Renacci suddenly so interested in coal jobs? Perhaps because the owners of Ohio (and other) mines are making contributions to Renacci’s war chest? Perhaps because he owes favors to representatives who—like fellow Republicans Brad Wenstrup (OH-2), Bob Gibbs (OH-7) and Steve Stivers(OH-15)—do have active coal mines and coal miners in their districts? Given the choice of The Marietta Times, however, my money is on Bill Johnson (OH-6).

All journalists love the rule: Follow The Money. This morning I see that over his political career, Renacci has received $43,417 from Murray Energy and that Renacci has been the recipient of $390,407 from the oil, gas and mining industries.

Then there is the matter, raised by The New Republic Senior Editor Alex MacGillis in Coal Miner’s Donor. In the lede to that 2012 story, MacGillis wrote:

It is both a pundit’s truism and a mathematical reality that Mitt Romney’s path to the White House runs through Ohio. And that path, in turn, runs through a firm called Murray Energy.

Over the years, CEO Robert Murray has brought in GOP pols from as far away as Alaska, California, and Massachusetts for fund-raisers. In 2010, the year John Boehner became House speaker, the firm’s 3,000 employees and their families were his second-biggest source of funds. (AT&T was in first place, but it has nearly 200,000 employees.) This year, Murray is one of the most important GOP players in one of the most important battleground states in the country. In May, he hosted a $1.7 million fund-raiser for Romney. Employees have given the nominee more than $120,000. In August, Romney used Murray’s Century Mine in the town of Beallsville for a speech attacking Barack Obama as anti-coal. This fall, scenes from that event—several dozen coal-smudged Murray miners standing behind the candidate in a tableau framed by a giant American flag and a COAL COUNTRY STANDS WITH MITT placard—have shown up in a Romney ad.

Days after MacGillis’ piece ran, he wrote a follow-up: A Coal Company Owner Responds. There his lede was:

In [Coal Miner’s Donor], I describe the pressure that Robert Murray, the owner of coal company Murray Energy, has for years exerted on his salaried employees to give to the company’s political action committee and to Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney. The article was based on the accounts of two Murray sources and on documents I obtained, including letters from Murray lambasting employees for not giving more and tables and a list of employee names showing who was giving and who was not.

MacGillis goes on to examine Murray’s response to his article:

[Murray Enegy]’s general counsel denied that Murray was pressuring employees to give or rewarding them in any way for their contributions, as the sources had described occurring. Now comes Murray himself with, as far as I can tell, his first public comments on the matter, in an interview with Erich Schwartzel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “It’s timed to shut me up. It’s a dishonest, totally false and fabricated group of charges to embarrass Gov. Mitt Romney, my family, our company and me.”

Murray was reacting both to the piece and to two subsequent requests that federal authorities look into Murray’s fundraising—one from the Ohio Democratic Party, which sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney for Northern Ohio and the Cuyahoga County prosecutor requesting an investigation, and one from the good-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

I’m still looking, without success this morning, for the outcomes of those actions.

*After extensive searches, I have been unable to determine what Renacci’s middle initial stands for. Until I can find a reliable reference to Renacci full name, Bupkis will do.

Previously…

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