Koch group gives $100K to super PAC backing Bill Cole in WV

West Virginia Senate President Bill Cole. (Gazette-Mail file photo)

A group fueled by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers has donated $100,000 to a super PAC supporting Republican Bill Cole for governor in West Virginia.

According to Federal Election Commission reports, Freedom Partners Action Fund Inc. wrote the check to the pro-Cole group Accelerate West Virginia in March.

One of the few Koch-connected groups that discloses donors, Freedom Partners Action Fund had $15 million cash available through February. Charles Koch gave $3 million in December.

The super PAC spent nearly $26 million on the 2014 election, according to FEC data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In late January, Cole spoke about right-to-work at a Palm Springs retreat organized by the Koch brothers. That event, at a posh resort hotel, was sponsored by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a politically active nonprofit that works in conjunction with Freedom Partners Action Fund. At the time, Cole’s campaign said he flew to Palm Springs on his personal plane, at his own expense and did not fundraise while he was there.

The campaign reiterated that on Monday and said it did not know about the donation to Accelerate West Virginia before it was reported by the news media.

“Senator Bill Cole did not solicit any support for his campaign during his trip to Palm Springs for the Freedom Partners retreat,” campaign consultant Kent Gates said.

Accelerate West Virginia’s treasurer is Troy Andes, a former member of the House of Delegates and a former spokesman for Massey Energy and Alpha Natural Resources.

Freedom Partners Action Fund is not the only Koch-affiliated super PAC that is supporting Cole’s campaign.

Aegis PAC, another affiliated group, announced last year that it would support Cole, one of just 10 candidates (and only two gubernatorial candidates) it is currently backing nationwide.

The super PAC is an outgrowth of a company called Aegis Strategic, which was founded in 2013.

Aegis Strategic is run by Jeff Crank, the former COO of Americans for Prosperity, the nationwide conservative political advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers. The company’s director of development is Tommy von der Heydt, who is a deputy director of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce.

Aegis PAC has raised about $196,000 in 2016, much of it from three men, Ronald Cameron, Cecil O’Brate and Stephen Slawson.

Cameron, who donated $53,600, owns an Arkansas-based poultry conglomerate. He was the leading donor to Mike Huckabee’s super PAC during the former Arkansas governor’s presidential bid.

O’Brate, an oil and gas executive from Kansas, gave $95,000.

(In various campaign finance disclosures, O’Brate’s name is spelled as O’Bate and O’Bates, but the same address and business is listed.)

Slawson, an Oklahoma-based oil executive, gave $45,000.

All three also gave the maximum $1,000 contribution to Cole’s campaign in October.

Gates said Cole “met with and welcomes the support of Aegis PAC, which has raised a modest amount for the campaign from the over $1 million the campaign has raised. The campaign to date has more than 1,600 contributors.”

Cole has given his own campaign more than $90,000. Businessman Jim Justice, running for governor as a Democrat, has given his campaign more than $100,000 and loaned it more than $1.9 million.

Cole, the state Senate president, is unopposed in the Republican primary.

In addition to Justice, ex-U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler are running as Democrats.

— from staff, wire reports

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