Sen. Mitch McConnell, left, and his wife Elaine Chao wave to the crowd after his speech at the Fancy Farm Picnic, Aug. 2, 2014 / Sam Upshaw Jr., The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal
WASHINGTON - Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell's wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, sits on the board of an organization that has been part of a campaign against the coal industry and against tobacco use.
The anti-coal news, first reported by Yahoo News, comes as McConnell campaigns for re-election, in part by trying to tie his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, to President Barack Obama and his so-called "war on coal."
The Senate minority leader is the top recipient of coal industry campaign contributions, which total more than $179,000, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The senator also has been a staunch defender over the years of tobacco, an important crop in Kentucky. He voted against the law that gave the federal government the power to regulate tobacco products and currently ranks second in campaign donations from the tobacco industry, according to FEC figures.
Meanwhile Chao sits on the board of directors of the Bloomberg Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has committed $50 million over four years to a campaign against coal.
The foundation, established by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also has committed $600 million to what it calls the "Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use."
The United Mine Workers of America, which has endorsed Grimes, attacked the Chao connection to anti-coal activists.
President Cecil Roberts said in a statement McConnell's wife "is of course free to take a position on whatever board of directors she chooses."
"But one would think that, as the spouse of a Kentucky politician, she would choose more carefully when it comes to taking a leadership role in an organization that had recently invested in the destruction of the American coal industry and the jobs of American coal miners," Roberts said.
On a Bloomberg website titled "Beyond Coal," the group states that it is partnered with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign "to move the country from coal to clean energy."
"The coal industry has had a tight grip on U.S. energy policy for decades, with devastating consequences for both public health and our environment," the Bloomberg site says. "A reliance on energy from coal is also keeping solar and wind energy out of the market, delaying the move toward cleaner energy sources."
The goal is to "retire one-third of the nation's aging coal fleet by 2020," according to Bloomberg Philanthropies.
McConnell has attacked Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency for efforts to reduce global warming by reducing pollution limits from coal-fired power plants. Kentucky is almost entirely dependent on coal for electricity generation. The state also is the nation's third-largest producer of coal, behind Wyoming and West Virginia.
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told Yahoo News that Bloomberg Philanthropies' decisions on the anti-coal grants were made before Chao joined the organization's board.
"She played no role in the decision to grant them," Stewart said. "Sen. McConnell has a longstanding, principled record of defending coal families and jobs. Decisions made by a board before Sec. Chao ever joined do not change that and as the Obama administration will tell you, he hasn't let up an iota in his defense of Kentucky coal families and jobs."
McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore added in an e-mail that "if Alison Lundergan â??Grimes thinks that it's appropriate to attack family in this campaign, she better think through that very carefully."
The Grimes campaign, however, declined to comment on the story.
Roberts said, "One has to wonder just where Sen. McConnell is with respect to this, and whether he supports his wife's continued service on the board of this organization, one whose actions have already cost thousands of coal miners in Kentucky and elsewhere their jobs."
Chao joined Bloomberg Philanthropies in early 2012, according to a news release on the group's website.
Chao was paid $9,400 in 2012, according to its annual filing with the state of New York. Its report for 2013 is not yet filed. McConnell's 2013 financial disclosure report shows only ranges of payments to his wife. For the Bloomberg group, the payment was "over $1,000" in 2013, the report shows.
Chao, who was labor secretary under President George W. Bush, also received a salary in 2013 from the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank. She also listed fees and/or deferred compensation from News America Inc.; Delta Air Lines; Dole Food Co. Inc.; Protective Life Insurance Co.; and Wells Fargo and Co. In each case, the fees were listed under a category of "over $1,000."
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: McConnell's wife sits on board that opposes coal