Amy McGrath Accused of Using Coal Miners as 'Political Pawns'

Miners demand McGrath take down attack ad they were unknowingly put in

Coal miners Randy Robbins and Albrow Hall on July trip to Washington, D.C. / Photo provided by lawyer for subjects
September 5, 2019

Two coal miners are demanding an ad by Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath be taken off the airwaves because they were not told their struggle was being used for a political ad, according to a letter from their lawyer obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Randy Robbins and Albrow Hall are both coal miners suffering from black lung who traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this summer to raise awareness about the disease. They were asked after the trip to participate in a reenactment of their bus ride to Washington that they believed was going to be used for a documentary for the Black Lung Association.

It came as a shock, then, when footage of their bus ride appeared on the airwaves as the centerpiece of a McGrath attack ad against Republican senator Mitch McConnell (Ky.). Now, their lawyer is asking the McGrath campaign to pull the ad from the air.

"Both Randy and Albrow were led to believe that the reenactment was being done for a documentary relating the work of the Black Lung Association," the cease and desist letter reads. "They did not know and were never told that they were being filmed for a political advertisement."

Neither of the men speak in the ad, which attacks McConnell for neglecting the miners, but both are seen in the ad's opening shots as another man recounts their "10-hour bus ride" to Washington.

The men, however, say they have no issue with McConnell, and don't want their struggle with black lung to be exploited by either political party.

"Randy and Albrow felt that the trip was a success," the letter states. "They deeply appreciated the warm receptions they received from a number of elected representatives who took the time to meet with the group, including Senator Mitch McConnell."

"Randy and Albrow are not partisan political activists for either party," it says, "however, they are personally offended at seeing their images being used in a political attack ad that does not reflect their personal feelings or beliefs. 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 law firm says McGrath has not responded to its letter, which was delivered to the campaign on Wednesday.

McGrath's campaign has no intention of pulling the ad. It told the Free Beacon the men were informed they were being filmed for an ad.

"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 campaign manager Mark Nickolas.

The campaign also said the letter came from a "partisan lawyer."

The lawyer, Christopher Thacker, says the men don't recall signing any release.

"My clients don’t recall signing any release, and certainly not one making reference to a political campaign," Thacker said in an email. "They would not have participated had they been aware that the footage was to be used for a partisan ad."

McGrath's Democratic primary opponent Mike Broihier seized on the complaint, accusing her of "exploiting Kentucky coal miners."

"For McGrath to exploit these coal miners for her personal political gain is disqualifying!" he said on Twitter. "She owes them a personal apology and an explanation as to why she did it."

The ad was also slammed by Kentucky radio host Matt Jones, who has made a name for himself with his liberal politics and is a fierce critic of McConnell. He complained about the Democratic establishment's embrace of McGrath, who has stumbled out of the gate in her bid to unseat the longtime Republican senator.

"This is what happens when the National party picks the candidates instead of the people of Kentucky," Jones wrote on Twitter. "Very disappointing."

UPDATE 3:00 p.m.: This piece has been updated with additional comments.