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Executives with ties to Freedom Industries gave to campaigns

CHARLESTON, WV -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito all have received campaign donations from executives with connections to the company at the center of the Elk River chemical spill.

The donations, all made since 2008, constitute a small portion of the total amounts raised by each candidate's campaigns.

All of the donations came from Dennis P. Farrell and J. Clifford Forrest.

Farrell is a former Freedom Industries executive. In the past 20 years, he also served in leadership positions at several companies that are partners with Freedom, including the Etowah River Terminal LLC location on the Elk River where the spill occurred.

Although merger documents say Gary Southern replaced Farrell on Dec. 31 as Freedom's president, Farrell is still listed as company president on Freedom's website.

Forrest is president of Rosebud Mining Co., a coal company in Pennsylvania. Forrest was listed as manager of the Etowah Terminal site and Poca Blending — where Freedom moved the remainder of the crude MCHM from the Elk River site — in the merger documents.

Forrest, through a different entity, now owns Freedom and a company that plans to loan Freedom $5 million.

Tomblin received a combined $1,500 from Farrell and Forrest during his 2011 and 2012 campaigns for governor, according to filings with the West Virginia Secretary of State.  

Farrell donated $250 on two separate occasions and Forrest donated $500 during the 2011 campaign. Tomblin raised more than $4.2 million in that election, which resulted in Tomblin replacing Manchin as governor.

Manchin had won a special election in 2010 to fill the remainder of the term of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

Tomblin received another $500 from Forrest during the 2012 campaign, in which he raised a total of $3.4 million.

Tomblin has repeatedly condemned Freedom since the spill. He proposed legislation Monday that he believes would enact regulatory and emergency preparedness changes to prevent a future spill.

State Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said Tuesday the governor's bill focused too much on industry. Unger said a bill he introduced focuses more on maintaining safe waterways.

Late Tuesday, he said he didn't believe any campaign contributions affected Tomblin's decision-making in crafting the proposed legislation.

"If anything, maybe he overcompensated more toward protecting industry over water, but I would be surprised if anything like that influenced him one way or another," Unger said.

He pointed out many people on the governor's staff also helped craft the bill.

Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said, "If you break the law you must be held accountable no matter who you have contributed to in the past."

During his 2008 campaign for governor, Manchin received $1,000 from Forrest, according to documents filed with the West Virginia secretary of state. He raised almost $3 million during the campaign.

Manchin, with fellow Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., introduced a bill at the federal level in relation to the spill.

"Senator Manchin has never and will never take into consideration campaign contributions when drafting legislation," spokesman Jonathan Kott said.

"The only thing he cares about is making sure he's doing the right thing for the people of West Virginia."

Capito, R-W.Va., received $500 in February 2013 from Forrest, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission. Her last filing with the FEC says she's raised more than $4 million since announcing her campaign.

Capito is running for the U.S. Senate seat Rockefeller plans to leave at the end of his term in 2014.

Her senate campaign manager said the congresswoman would give the money to charity.

"Rather than refunding the contribution directly we will be sending it to The United Way's West Virginia Emergency Fund where it can be put to better use," said Chris Hansen, manager for Capito's Senate campaign.

Phone messages left for Farrell and Forrest were not returned.

Contact reporter Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher


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