He’s the Trump-annointed candidate running to make the Columbus suburbs MAGA again. But while former energy lobbyist Mike Carey is happy to tout the former president’s endorsement in the GOP primary, he’s not quite as eager to talk about his proximity to one of Ohio’s most expensive corruption scandals.
Carey’s campaign website touts him as an “outsider” who “spent his career holding politicians accountable and fighting for working class families.” But it only vaguely mentions his “20+ year career as an executive in the American energy industry.”
For eight years, Carey worked as the vice president of government affairs at Murray Energy Corporation, once one of the largest coal companies and most notorious violators of environmental laws. He was the right hand man of Bob Murray, according to three sources who worked with and against Carey on environmental issues at the Ohio State House. He also currently serves as chairman of the board of directors of the Ohio Coal Association, which long had close ties to Murray Energy.
Murray Energy filed for bankruptcy in 2019 and has since reemerged as American Consolidated Natural Resources Inc., where Carey currently works and holds the same position.
Bob Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, died in October 2020.
Neither Carey nor Murray Energy were charged with any crimes in connection to the Generation Now investigation, which resulted in federal charges against several top Ohio power players and, ultimately, the expulsion of former Speaker Larry Householder from the Ohio House.
But as the top lobbyist for Murray—referred to discreetly as “Company B” in the criminal complaint against Householder—Carey had a front row seat to one of Ohio’s biggest corruption scandals.
Blaine Kelly, Carey’s campaign manager, said Carey “was not in any effort to push HB 6 through.”
However, after this story published, an email surfaced from a trove of correspondence provided by the Ohio House to the Department of Justice during their investigation of HB 6. In that email, Carey appears to have visibility into an effort to shape HB 6, including a memo naming certain amendments the Ohio Coal Association wanted in the bill.
The email dated May 9, 2019, obtained through a public records request by the Energy & Policy Institute and provided to The Daily Beast by the energy watchdog group, came from Ohio Coal Association President Michael Cope with the subject line “Ohio Coal Association Memo Re: H.B. 6 possible amendments.”
Carey is one of several people copied on the email, which also went out to the committee and subcommittee chairs who had oversight of the bill, as well as a top Householder policy staffer.
“We would like to thank Chairman Callender for participating in a phone conference with the Ohio Coal Association yesterday. We truly appreciate his help and openness/ The Chairman suggested we send this to all of you,” Cope wrote, referring to Republican Ohio State Representative Jamie Callender, a co-sponsor of the bill.
“We are supportive of H.B.6 in general however we believe the attached Memo will articulate our position more comprehensively. If you have questions or comments please let us know,” Cope continued.
In an email to The Daily Beast, Cope said the “chairman” reference was to Callender, not Carey, who chairs OCA.
“Neither OCA, nor our member companies took a position on H.B. 6.,” he said in an email.
When asked to clarify—since his 2019 email said “We are supportive of H.B.6 in general"—Cope responded, “We did not take a position on the final bill.”
The Carey campaign did not respond to a request to comment on the email.
The scandal revolves around HB 6, which was a billion-dollar bailout of the state’s nuclear industry.
At the heart of the case is a $60 million slush fund known as Generation Now, funded primarily by nuclear power company FirstEnergy. According to federal court documents, Householder, with the help of his top aide Jeffrey Longstreth, used the slush fund as a secret piggybank to mount a successful campaign for Householder to become speaker of Ohio’s House of Representatives in 2018. In exchange for the largesse, according to court documents, Householder used the speaker’s gavel to pass HB 6.
In the fall of 2018, according to court documents, Householder and his allies focused on using Generation Now’s money to make sure candidates supportive of him and his speakership were elected. Towards that end, Householder and his allies orchestrated the creation of a dark money group—identified by the Columbus Dispatch and Cincinnati Enquirer as “Hardworking Ohioans Inc.”—for a $1.5 million spending spree on negative ads.
Generation Now and FirstEnergy provided the vast amount of funding for the dark money group’s commercials. Among the spots paid for by the cutout was an ad that showed Ohio Democrat Dan Foley “taking a field sobriety test, yet only receiving a speeding ticket,” according to court documents. Foley, who “reportedly had a 10-point lead before the ad aired” lost his race and “media reports credited the [Hardworking Ohioans] ad with tipping the scales,” according to an FBI affidavit in support of a criminal complaint.
Court documents show that Murray Energy, where Carey was working as the top lobbyist, kicked in $100,000 worth of funding for the Hardworking Ohioans negative ad spree. Prosecutors referred to Murray, which was not charged in connection with the scheme, as “an energy company whose interests aligned with [FirstEnergy].”
Though it was a coal company, Murray nonetheless found common cause with FirstEnergy, Householder, and Generation Now; their legislative push for the nuclear industry contained fringe benefits for the coal industry, too.
When Householder and his allies passed the HB 6 nuclear bailout bill, the legislation provided handouts to a struggling Ohio coal plant, which was a key customer of Murray Energy’s coal supplies.
Carey’s employer didn’t just mix its money and interests with the Generation Now slush fund. It also courted one of the key indicted architects of the larger scheme behind it, top Householder aide and former Generation Now leader Jeff Longstreth.
Two years before the creation of Generation Now, Murray Energy invited Longstreth to a 2015 Republican Governors Association event as the company’s guest, according to documents obtained by the corporate watchdog group, Documented.
An August 2020 report in the Cincinnati Enquirer details additional links between Murray Energy and Longstreth including that in 2014, his firm was paid for its work on West Virginia legislative races by a PAC called Moving West Virginia Forward, funded mostly by Murray Energy.
Longstreth pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy in October 2020 in connection with his role in the Generation Now scheme.
The Ohio House of Representatives expelled Householder in June. He is still awaiting trial and has pleaded not guilty.
Trump’s endorsement of Carey in the crowded field vying to replace retired Rep. Steve Stivers could give him a leg-up in a district where support for the former president runs deep. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has hit the campaign trail for Carey.
But the endorsements are not Carey’s first interaction with Trump’s orbit.
From his perch as an “outsider” at Murray Energy, Carey joined his boss, Bob Murray, and Andrew Wheeler, then a lobbyist for Murray who later became the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, to push their company’s agenda in a meeting with then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry. His presence in three meetings with Trump officials are detailed in documents from Wheeler’s confirmation hearing.
It was at that meeting where Murray, who donated $300,000 to the Trump inaugural, delivered a wish list of environmental regulatory rollbacks that eventually, according to the New York Times, became a “to-do” list for the Trump administration.
Murray Energy of course didn’t get everything they wanted from the Trump administration.
In 2018, Murray Energy donated $1 million to America First Action, four days after Murray himself asked the White House to use federal funds to save a utility that bought coal from his company. The administration said no.
Carey’s aggressive advocacy for the coal industry is well known. A 2011 profile in Politico details his involvement in anti-climate campaigns targeting politicians on every level and described him as a “national voice” in that arena.
A Carey-led group ran ads against then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry when he ran for president in 2004 and Barack Obama when he ran for president in 2008. Another group he led, American Council for Affordable and Reliable Energy, ran ads against legislation aimed at curbing the emission of greenhouse gases that targeted Democratic senators from Arkansas to Missouri, according to the Politico profile.
“The biggest chuckle is this claim that he’s an ‘outsider,’” said Mark Strickland, who served as former Ohio governor Ted Strickland’s energy adviser and had frequent interactions with Carey. “You can’t be more inside than Mike Carey.”
Kelly, Carey’s campaign manager, said the “outsider” distinction was “fairly obvious.”
“He’s not a politician, he’s never held elected office,” Kelly said. “He’s certainly not a politician.”
Carey’s attacks, however, are not limited to Democratic adversaries—and can be personal.
In 2016, Mike Hartley, a longtime Ohio Republican political operative, found himself on the wrong side of Carey after he worked to kill legislation Carey had been lobbying to pass. Right after the bill was vetoed, Carey asked him to meet with him at his office.
“It was basically a meeting to say ‘stay out of my way or I will crush you,’” Hartley said.
Kelly called the allegation “totally false.”
“Hartley is a serial liar who has publicly backed two of our opponents in this race,” Kelly said. “This typical insider attack won’t move the needle for him.”
Still, when Hartley saw Carey had received Trump’s endorsement, he’d had enough.
“I’m so sick of these corrupt, jack-booted thug assholes, who think they are above the law and think they can get away with threats,” Hartley said. “Somebody like Mike Carey is absolutely the last person that should be a member of Congress—literally he’s the swampiest swamp creature around.”