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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Jenkins Ads Mislead on Carbon Tax, Coal

Two highly misleading ads from Republican Evan Jenkins leave the false impression that Rep. Nick Rahall is responsible for higher electric rates and personally profited from his votes in Congress:

  • Both ads imply that West Virginia’s electricity rates skyrocketed after Rahall voted for a budget resolution that called for a carbon tax. But the budget plan failed; no tax was ever implemented; and the 23.2 percent rate increase mentioned in one ad has nothing to do with a carbon tax.
  • One ad says Rahall took “bribes” in exchange for votes, “pocketing millions of dollars in return” for helping President Obama “kill coal.” But Rahall didn’t personally pocket any money. The ad cites editorials about Rahall’s out-of-state campaign contributions and lobbyist-paid trips. The editorials were written in 1994 and had nothing to do with coal or Obama.

Jenkins has proven to be a tough opponent for the Democratic incumbent, who has served in the House since 1977 and has represented West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District since 1993. The race is currently rated as a “toss-up” by the Rothenberg Political Report.

No Carbon Tax

In the Jenkins campaign ad “Bribes,” which went on the air Oct. 10, a narrator says Rahall “has gotten rich” in Congress and “he’ll never face the choice between feeding the kids or heating the home.” It goes on to say, “So when Rahall pushed a carbon tax raising electric rates, he wasn’t thinking about you.”

Another Jenkins campaign ad released earlier, on Oct. 1, also suggested that West Virginians’ utility bills have increased because of a carbon tax. That ad shows the words “power bills rise” and “carbon tax hits the poor” on screen, while the narrator says, “Nick Rahall’s carbon tax, sky high electric rates.” That’s followed by another graphic with “rate increase” and “23.2 percent” in quotes.

But no carbon tax has been implemented causing electricity rates to increase.

What Rahall voted for was the 2013 Congressional Progressive Caucus budget plan to create jobs and reduce the deficit. The proposal also called for a fee of $25 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted by polluters, according to a summary of the plan. Under the proposal, the emissions fee would increase by 5.6 percent each year, and 25 percent of the revenue would be used as rebates to help shield low-income families from higher energy costs.

But the budget proposal failed overwhelmingly in the House by a vote of 327 to 84. Not one Republican voted for it, and more Democrats voted against it than in favor. Even if it had passed, the budget proposal was a nonbinding resolution, and the carbon tax proposal could not have been implemented without separate legislation.

Rahall told West Virginia’s Metro News that he did not vote for the budget because of the carbon tax proposal, but rather to make a statement against Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which Rahall opposed.

Even though Rahall’s vote could not have possibly resulted in higher electric bills, viewers see quotes from a newspaper article — “power bills rise” and “23.2 percent” – that have nothing to do with a carbon tax proposal at all. They come from a June story in the Charleston Gazette about two West Virginia utility companies asking a state commission to approve a 17 percent increase in electric power rates to increase company revenue.

Charleston Gazette, June 30: Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power, both subsidiaries of American Electric Power, asked the West Virginia Public Service Commission on Monday to approve a 17 percent overall increase in electric power rates, which would raise the company’s revenue by $226 million.

Homeowners and individual customers could get higher rate increases than industrial and commercial consumers under the proposal Appalachian Power submitted on Monday. For example, residential customers using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month would see their monthly power bills rise by 23.2 percent, or $21.77, to $115.77 from $94, according to a statement from the power company.

Charles Patton, president of Appalachian Power, said in a Monday news release that increased revenues are needed to cover the costs of doing business.

“It includes things like storm restoration costs from the derecho [June 29, 2012] and Superstorm Sandy [Oct. 29, 2012], implementation of a right-of-way maintenance program to improve reliability and a return that is sufficient to attract capital. Ultimately, the commission will determine the outcome of the request,” Patton said.

The “carbon tax hits the poor” quote used in the Jenkins ad comes from the conservative Heritage Foundation, which argued against such a tax in an August 2012 report. As we said, the resolution didn’t pass and couldn’t have implemented a tax anyway.

Cash for Votes?

The “Bribes” ad also makes the over-the-top claim that Rahall “helped Obama kill coal, pocketing millions of dollars in return,” and says that the Charleston Gazette said Rahall “took bribes, trading cash for votes.” But the Jenkins campaign has no proof that Rahall’s votes were influenced by donations to his campaign.

First of all, neither Obama nor Rahall has killed coal. To be sure, the coal industry in West Virginia has suffered because of a number of factors, some of which predate the Obama administration, such as competing energy sources and technology. Regardless of the industry’s struggles, as of 2013, West Virginia was still the second largest coal producer in the nation after Wyoming, according to the Energy Information Administration. Its demise is greatly exaggerated.

Now, about those claims of “bribes.”

To back up its claim that Rahall “helped Obama kill coal, pocketing millions of dollars in return,” the Jenkins campaign points to more than $3 million in campaign contributions Rahall has received since 2007 from labor organizations and Democratic campaign committees and leadership PACs. The campaign also points to Rahall’s 2007 vote for H.R. 2643, a bill that endorsed “a comprehensive and effective national program of mandatory, market-based limits and incentives on emissions of greenhouse gases that slow, stop, and reverse the growth of such emissions,” as well as Rahall’s 2009 vote for H.R. 2996, which, among other things, increased the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency by more than $2.65 billion.

But Rahall’s vote for H.R. 2643 came in 2007, before Obama became president, and the bill didn’t become law anyway. Plus, campaign contributions alone hardly prove that Rahall is working on the president’s behalf. As we have written before, Rahall, on a number of occasions, has opposed Obama on policies affecting the coal industry. That includes a vote in 2009 against final passage of the Obama-backed H.R. 2454, which included a cap-and-trade system regulating carbon emissions from coal companies and other utilities.

In addition, viewers could be led to believe that the “bribes” and “cash for … his vote” quotes featured in the ad have something to do with Obama. They don’t. Those quotes come from Charleston Gazette editorials that were written 20 years ago.

In October 1994, former Gazette Editorial Page Editor Dan Radmacher questioned why the overwhelming majority of Rahall’s campaign contributions that year had come from people living outside of West Virginia.

Charleston Gazette, Oct. 23, 1994: Ask yourself: Why would people who don’t live in this state send money to convince West Virginians to elect Rahall?

Obviously, out-of-state donors are trying to buy influence with the representative who chairs a House subcommittee on transportation. They’re trading cash for favorable treatment in Congress. They know that Rahall, an entrenched incumbent, is a likely winner, so they want to butter him up in advance.

We should also note that Rahall again has received the vast majority of his money — 72 percent — from out-of-state residents during the 2014 cycle. But Jenkins has received a total of $315,000 in out-of-state contributions, according to Opensecrets.org. That’s not much less than the $394,000 that Rahall has received from outside the state.

In May 1994, longtime Gazette Editor James A. Haught wrote an editorial about “semi-bribes” to members of Congress, including Rahall, who once went on a cruise paid for by a lobbying group. “Remember when Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., took a Caribbean cruise with a woman companion at the expense of a lobbying group wanting his vote in Congress? The U.S. Senate finally has taken a solid step to ban such lucrative semi-bribes. By 95 to 4, it voted to prohibit lobbyists from giving Congress members free vacations, fancy meals, golf outings, ski trips and other luxury gifts,” he wrote.

And in February 1994, Radmacher wrote another editorial suggesting that Rahall would vote against a bill seeking to prevent secondhand smoke-related deaths because of support he had received from the tobacco industry. “Rep. Nick Rahall is probably the most hopeless of the state’s representatives,” he wrote. “A smoker himself — he prefers cigars — Rahall is well-known for mooching off the tobacco industry. He has accepted free trips and other legal bribes from the industry, including nearly $20,000 in campaign contributions. Guess which way he’ll vote, if the issue ever even makes it to the full House?”

But those are the opinions of editorial writers. They don’t prove that Rahall votes based on campaign donations. And, again, those editorials had nothing to do with Obama or coal.

— D’Angelo Gore