Shauna Johnson/

Don Blankenship and Bill Taylor, his lead attorney in the federal trial.

Don Blankenship is filing papers to run for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate in West Virginia for the seat now held by Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin. Blankenship is the former Massey Energy CEO who was released from prison earlier this year after serving one year for a misdemeanor conviction of conspiracy to violate mine safety laws.

The conviction did not hold Blankenship responsible for the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010, but the charges against him were a result of an investigation into the disaster where 29 miners died.

Blankenship has never given up trying to show that investigators incorrectly concluded that inadequate safety protections at the mine, including poor ventilation and excessive coal dust, caused the blast. He has continually argued that a rush of natural gas through a fracture in the mine floor fueled the blast and blames Manchin for what Blankenship believes was a politically motivated prosecution.

Since his release from prison, Blankenship has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars running television ads that tell his side of the story, and trying to get the government to reopen the investigation into UBB, with no luck.  However, the story is now taking a different turn.

Blankenship is about to get more bang for his advertising buck.  He has been paying the issue ad rate at TV stations, which is usually the most expensive.  As a candidate, by law Blankenship will be entitled to the lowest unit rate, which is steeply discounted.

Technically, he will not be entitled to that low rate until 45 days before the Primary Election (60 days before the General Election), but often broadcast outlets will go ahead and grant the discount once a person enters the race or when the Secretary of State’s Office issues the official candidacy list.

Blankenship’s newest ads, which are scheduled to begin today, contain what he believes are game-changing revelations into UBB—emails among Mine Safety and Health Administration investigators demonstrating a cover-up.

Should Blankenship decide later that he’s serious about running, who knows what might happen?  It’s hard to imagine such a polarizing figure, who is reviled by many and praised by a few, winning, but a determined candidate with means in a four person field (Blankenship, Bo Copley, Evan Jenkins, Patrick Morrisey) can be a factor.

However, it is evident that Blankenship’s desire to reopen the UBB probe is far more important to him than becoming a U.S. Senator.  For now, at least, the candidacy appears to be a means toward that end.


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