Two coal miners demand McGrath stop using their images in McConnell attack ad

Two coal miners featured in an attack ad against Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Manchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet MORE (R-Ky.) from Democrat Amy McGrath said they were not told the footage would be used for a political ad and are demanding the campaign stop using their images.

The ad in question was released last week by McGrath, a military veteran challenging McConnell in 2020. It shows coal miners with black lung disease who took a ten-hour bus ride to Washington, D.C., to speak with McConnell, the Senate majority leader, about saving their disability benefits.

Two men in the video, Randy Robbins and Albrow Hall, said that they were told the reenactment filming on the bus ride was for a documentary relating to the work of the Black Lung Association.


But the McGrath campaign said all miners were informed they were being filmed for an ad and signed release forms.

Represented by Lexington-based attorney Christopher Thacker, Robbins and Hall sent a cease-and-desist letter to McGrath’s office on Wednesday. Thacker said the campaign had not yet responded to the written request on Thursday.

“Randy and Albrow are not partisan political activists for either party. 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,” Thacker wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Hill. 

“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.”  

Thacker said his clients only learned the footage was for a political ad when they saw it aired.

Neither Robbins or Hall are featured speaking in the ad, but Thacker said the men were “shocked and outraged” when they saw their images “featured prominently” in the ad. 

"Quite simply, Randy and Albrow have a legal right to control the use of their personal images," Thacker argues in the letter. 

McGrath campaign manager Mark Nickolas pushed back on Thacker’s claims while dismissing them as coming from a "partisan lawyer."

Thacker was appointed to Kentucky’s Executive Ethics Commission in 2016 by Gov. Matt Bevin (R). He serves as the chair of the commission

“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,” Nickolas said in a statement to The Hill. 

“Mitch McConnell remains under fire for his callous disregard for the health of our miners and asking a partisan lawyer tied to the equally incompetent Bevin administration to send a letter to complain is sheer political desperation and shows how nervous he is about his badly damaged re-election hopes,” Nickolas added. 

McConnell’s campaign, under its Team Mitch Twitter account, said, “Amy McGrath exploits coal miners. Who could have seen this coming.” McConnell’s campaign included a 13-second clip from the Democrat’s interview with “Full Frontal” host Samantha Bee.

Mike Broihier, a Democrat challenging McGrath in a primary for the nomination, also called out McGrath and said she owes the coal miners an apology. 

“For @AmyMcGrathKY to exploit these coal miners for her personal political gain is disqualifying! She owes them a personal apology and an explanation as to why she did it,” Broihier tweeted. “I'm looking forward to speaking to the @MineWorkers' regional compact meeting in Lexington today at 1p.”

McGrath’s ad was focused on a group of 120 coal miners who visited D.C. in July to appeal to McConnell to fund their disability benefits by collecting more taxes from coal companies. 

In the video, Jimmy Moore, a coal miner from Pike County, Ky., said the group only saw McConnell for one minute.

“Mitch McConnell let the coal companies walk away from us, and then after one minute he did too,” Moore says.

Moore said his step-father and grandfather died of black lung disease, and said his son is now suffering from it.

McConnell's campaign responded to McGrath's ad last week, calling it "false" and saying "nobody has done more for Kentucky coal miners than Mitch McConnell."

Updated: 3 p.m.