Coal company to pay $5,000 fine for 'fire Obama' signs

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A major coal mining company has agreed to pay $5,000 to settle charges that it violated election spending rules by distributing anti-President Obama signs in 2012.

In a settlement announced Friday with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Murray Energy Corp. admitted that it failed to disclose paying for signs that read, “STOP the WAR on COAL — FIRE OBAMA” in the months before the 2012 presidential election.

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Following a complaint by a liberal group in Ohio, FEC investigated the signs, for which Murray paid about $22,000.

The agency found that the signs are not expressly prohibited under current campaign finance law, but Murray should have disclosed on the signs themselves who paid for them, and filed regular reports about its spending, which FEC determined was meant to sway the election fight between Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee that year.

“Because Murray Energy’s ‘STOP the WAR on COAL - FIRE OBAMA’ signs are public communications that contain express advocacy, they required a disclaimer,” FEC attorneys said in an administrative filing.

Murray, led by Robert Murray, is an outspoken critic of Obama’s environmental agenda, which it says amounts to a “war on coal.”

Robert Murray received widespread attention in 2012 when he was accused of compelling coal miners to attend a Romney rally.

In its own filings, attorneys for Murray said the company only paid to reproduce signs that had already been printed. To accuse it of electioneering for simple furthering a “pop culture” phenomenon would be outside of the scope of election law, Murray argued.

FEC reached the settlement in September, but only disclosed it Friday.

Murray Spokesman Gary Broadbent said the company and Bob Murray “consider the matter closed, will continue to vigorously exercise their rights to participate in the political process as the law allows.”