FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

How the “Cocaine Mitch” Saga Deflected the Spotlight on Corruption

Photo by Aaron Vowels | CC BY 2.0

The West Virginia Senate Republican Primary ended last week with Don Blankenship in third place. He would have otherwise been considered a fringe candidate, but a series of attack ads against Mitch McConnell launched him onto the national scene.

Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, is no stranger to controversy. He served a year in prison for conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards. The trial was in response to an explosion that killed 29 coal miners.

Such a background would normally be a disqualifier for a career in politics. However, the negativity from Blankenship’s campaign pulled him out of obscurity. One of his ads concluded with a pledge to “ditch ‘Cocaine Mitch’ (McConnell).”

By making this vague and ambiguous claim, it resulted in widespread media coverage. The Blankenship campaign eventually responded with this statement, which mentioned a shipment of cocaine that was confiscated aboard one of the freighters owned by McConnell’s father-in-law’s company, Foremost Maritime.

He then followed up with another ad. “Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people, while doing so, Mitch has gotten rich,” said Blankenship. “In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars.”

As with most political attack ads, there’s usually a very low bar for context. However, this campaign message managed to drag down that already-poor standard. Worst of all, in this instance, there was an opportunity to raise the bar by examining issues involving corruption, but the Blankenship campaign failed to deliver.

To be clear, the “cocaine” smear against Mitch McConnell was completely unwarranted. The Nation reported in 2014 that 90 pounds of cocaine were confiscated by Colombian authorities on one of Foremost Maritime’s ships.

There isn’t a shred of evidence connecting the Senator from Kentucky or his family with this illegal drug shipment. Most likely, some of the crew members were responsible for the drugs on board this massive vessel that has a 91,385-ton capacity. Ultimately, no one has been arrested for this offense.

On the other hand, there are several valid criticisms involving McConnell and his vast financial conflicts of interest affecting his decisions as a public official. Blankenship indirectly alluded to this with his “China people” comments, but he completely missed the mark.

These attacks were in response to the investigative work in Peter Schweizer’s book, Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends. The book goes into extensive detail involving several examples of difficult-to-investigate corruption, i.e. connections with family members. That included the many business ties between McConnell, his wife Elaine Chao (the current Secretary of Transportation), and his father-in-law, James Chao.

The Chinese economy is rapidly shifting towards capitalism, but it would be more accurately described as crony capitalism. The Chinese government has a heavy hand in picking and choosing the winners. These people are often connected with the Communist Party or, in some cases, have influence with foreign governments.

Hence, Schweizer pointed to the red flags involving James Chao. He and his daughter, Angela, were appointed to the board of directors of one of China’s top military contractors, Chinese State Shipbuilding Corporation Holdings. Also, Angela Chao was added to the Bank of China’s board of directors.

The Chao family’s fortune came from wealth generated by Foremost Maritime, which ships goods across the world. That includes extensive business with the aforementioned, Chinese State Shipbuilding Corporation Holdings.

Those business relations seemingly aided James Chao to arrange meetings with McConnell and the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Jiang Zemin, along with other senior officials. Keep in mind, these meetings took place in the early 1990s when the Chinese government was reeling from international pressure involving the Tiananmen Square massacre. McConnell’s visit helped build legitimacy for a government whom many deemed undeserving due to its human rights record.

He had been a hardliner against China, but Schweizer’s book demonstrated McConnell’s evolving stance. In particular, McConnell co-sponsored a bill to remove the Chinese government’s human rights requirements for trade relations. He also battled against a bill, the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act, which would have placed tariffs on goods from countries, such as China, that manipulateits currency to boost exports.

That stance by McConnell was in direct opposition to his prior support for tariffs against Japan for exact same conduct. Obviously, there is a lot of contention as far as the appropriate trading policy with China. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with a politician changing his opinion on a political topic after further research. In fact, such behavior should be encouraged. However, financial conflicts of interest should obviously never impact a politician’s opinions.

With that in mind, it’s unquestionable that James Chao benefited from his relationship with Mitch McConnell. In turn, the McConnell family has certainly prospered from James Chao’s success. Elaine Chao received an inheritance in 2008 after her mother’s death. According to disclosure forms, it was between $5 to $25 million.

On the positive side, Don Blankenship’s lowbrow attack ads have indirectly spurred media attention focused upon political financial conflicts of interest. For example, a few major media organizations have begun examining Elaine Chao’s actions at the Department of Transportation.

Public officials can’t use their positions for their private gain, yet Elaine Chao, along with her father, recently conducted a video interview with a Chinese news organization. It was filmed at the Department of Transportation with the agency’s logo visible in the background, along with the Kentucky state flag. This video touted James Chao’s business, career, and biography.

All in all, Blankenship’s “anti-swamp” rhetoric struck a chord with several voters, but there needs to be actual substance behind an anti-corruption campaign. When citing Schweizer’s work, Blankenship had an opportunity to expand the political consciousness and expose a variety of crooked behavior on Capitol Hill. However, for the most part, that opportunity wasn’t seized and the general public remains unaware of the vast financial conflicts of interests affecting government policy.

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
January 24, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
A Letter From Iowa
Jim Kavanagh
Aftermath: The Iran War After the Soleimani Assassination
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Camp by the Lake
Chuck Churchill
The Long History of Elite Rule: What Will It Take To End It?
Robert Hunziker
A Climate Time Bomb With Trump’s Name Inscribed
Andrew Levine
Trump: The King
Jess Franklin
Globalizing the War on Indigenous People: Bolsonaro and Modi
James Graham
From Paris, With Tear Gas…
Rob Urie
Why the Primaries Matter
Dan Bacher
Will the Extinction of Delta Smelt Be Governor Gavin Newsom’s Environmental Legacy?
Ramzy Baroud
In the Name of “Israel’s Security”: Retreating US Gives Israel Billions More in Military Funding
Vijay Prashad
What the Right Wing in Latin America Means by Democracy Is Violence
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Biden’s Shameful Foreign Policy Record Extends Well Beyond Iraq
Louis Proyect
Isabel dos Santos and Africa’s Lumpen-Bourgeoisie
Nick Pemberton
AK-46: The Case Against Amy Klobuchar
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Promtheus’ Fire: Climate Change in the Time of Willful Ignorance
Linn Washington Jr.
Waiting for Justice in New Jersey
Ralph Nader
Pelosi’s Choice: Enough for Trump’s Impeachment but not going All Out for Removal
Mike Garrity – Jason Christensen
Don’t Kill 72 Grizzly Bears So Cattle Can Graze on Public Lands
Joseph Natoli
Who’s Speaking?
Kavaljit Singh
The US-China Trade Deal is Mostly Symbolic
Cesar Chelala
The Coronavirus Serious Public Health Threat in China
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Must Remain Vigilant and on Guard Against US Hybrid Warfare
Robert Fantina
Impeachment as a Distraction
Courtney Bourgoin
What We Lose When We Lose Wildlife
Mark Ashwill
Why Constructive Criticism of the US is Not Anti-American
Daniel Warner
Charlie Chaplin and Truly Modern Times
Manuel Perez-Rocha
How NAFTA 2.0 Boosts Fossil Fuel Polluters, Particularly in Mexico
Dean Baker
What Minimum Wage Would Be If It Kept Pace With Productivity
Mel Gurtov
India’s Failed Democracy
Thomas Knapp
US v. Sineneng-Smith: Does Immigration Law Trump Free Speech?
Winslow Myers
Turning Point: The new documentary “Coup 53”
Jeff Mackler
U.S. vs. Iran: Which Side are You On?
Sam Pizzigati
Braggadocio in the White House, Carcinogens in Our Neighborhoods
Christopher Brauchli
The Company Trump Keeps
Julian Vigo
Why Student Debt is a Human Rights Issue
Ramzy Baroud
These Chains Will Be Broken
Chris Wright
A Modest Proposal for Socialist Revolution
Thomas Barker
The Slow Death of European Social Democracy: How Corbynism Bucked the Trend
Nicky Reid
It’s Time to Bring the War Home Again
Michelle Valadez
Amy Klobuchar isn’t Green
David Swanson
CNN Poll: Sanders Is The Most Electable
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Our Dire Need for “Creative Extremists”—MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Jill Richardson
‘Little Women’ and the American Attitude Toward Poverty
David Yearsley
Watching Star Wars in Berlin
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail