Politics & Government

Two Kentucky miners shown in Amy McGrath ad want it taken down. Here’s why.

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Two miners shown in a campaign ad for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Amy McGrath have sent a cease and desist letter demanding the campaign stop using their images, but the campaign said Thursday that both men signed a form giving their permission to appear in the commercial.

The ad, which McGrath launched August 23, featured a reenactment of a group of miners who made a 10 hour bus trip to Washington D.C. to ask U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to restore a higher tax on coal companies to help fund the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. Some of the miners were disappointed that McConnell only spent a brief time with them.

Two of the miners who went on the trip and were featured in the ad, Randy Robbins and Albrow Hall, said through an attorney that they were led to believe the footage was being used for a documentary for the Black Lung Association and that they “did not know and were never told they were being filmed for a political advertisement”

“They are personally offended at seeing their images being used in a political attack ad that does not reflect their personal feelings or beliefs,” their attorney, Christopher Thacker, wrote. “It is simply wrong for the McGrath Campaign to use individual miners suffering from black lung disease as political pawns without their permission or consent.”

The miners are shown for about four seconds as the camera pans through a bus traveling on a mountain road. The cease and desist letter says they were “shocked and outraged” when they saw the ad.

The McGrath campaign pushed back at the miners’ claim they were unaware the filming was for an ad, pointing out that both miners signed release forms. The forms, though, granted permission for Putnam Partners, McGrath’s ad consultant, to use their image in “promotional materials.” It did not mention McGrath by name.

The campaign added that both Robbins and Hall signed up to receive Amy McGrath for Senate t-shirts and hats.

“All of the miners were fully informed that they were being filmed for an ad and even signed up for McGrath hats and t-shirts,” said Mark Nickolas, McGrath’s campaign manager. “Mitch McConnell remains under fire for his callous disregard for the health of our miners and asking a partisan lawyer tied to the equally incompetent Bevin administration to send a letter to complain is sheer political desperation.”

Thacker, the attorney on the case, was appointed by Bevin to Kentucky’s Executive Branch Ethics Commission. Thacker said he did not “seek or receive any input from the McConnell campaign regarding the letter.”

McGrath announced her bid to run for U.S. Senate in early July, and despite the looming prospect of a competitive Democratic primary as Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones considers running, she has gone straight after McConnell in television ads more than a year before the 2020 general election.

Her campaign highlighted the miners who traveled to D.C. just as another group of miners were getting national attention — several hundred Eastern Kentucky miners were stiffed on their final paychecks by Blackjewel LLC when the company declared bankruptcy.

Coal has long served as a political football in Kentucky, but has traditionally been used by the Republican Party to rail against environmental regulations as job losses from the mining industry devastated local economies.

McGrath visited the Blackjewel miners in Harlan County, as did one of her primary opponents, Mike Broihier from Lincoln County.

Outside of KSBar and Grille, Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones describes part of the reason why it is taking him longer than Democrat Amy McGrath to decide if he'll enter the 2020 race for Mitch McConnell's Senate seat.

Daniel Desrochers has been the political reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader since 2016. He previously worked for the Charleston Gazette-Mail in Charleston, West Virginia.