Illinois Mine Safety Head Took Thousands in Campaign Contributions from Coal Baron Chris Cline

Tony Mayville is a candidate for State Representative in southern Illinois and chairman of the Washington County Democratic Party. He has also supervised the Mine Safety division and served as acting director of Mines and Minerals at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Over several years, including time while Mayville was responsible for regulating Illinois coal mines, he collected thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from companies owned by billionaire coal mine operator Chris Cline. In November 2013 a fatal accident occurred at a coal mine owned by Chris Cline and regulated by Tony Mayville.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Mayville chairs the political fund of the Washington County Democratic Party Central Committee. Their campaign finance reports show the committee raising thousands of dollars from multiple companies owned by the Cline Group at least since 2008 through 2013.

Several contributions were from Cline subsidiary Hillsboro Energy. They gave Mayville's Washington County Democratic fund $1,000 in 2008$500 in 2010 and another $1,000 in 2011. During that time, the company was seeking a permit from the Department of Natural Resources for the Deer Run longwall mine. Mayville was already collecting coal industry campaign contributions when Governor Pat Quinn made him acting director of the Office of Mines and Minerals, where he would oversee the mine permitting process.

Similarly, Mayville's Washington county committee took $500 from Macoupin Energy LLC, another Cline subsidiary seeking a new mine permit.

More recently, Cline-owned Foresight Energy donated $1,000 in 2012 to the party committee, and another $2,000 to Mayville's state representative campaign fund in March of 2013. Foresight Energy's donation to Mayville's campaign attracted negative attention, so last week his campaign sent a letter to the state board of elections claiming it was accepted by accident. He transferred the contribution to the Washington county party committee he chairs. The distinction may be legally significant, but regardless of which of his committees he used, Mayville accepted campaign contributions from coal mine owners while overseeing mine safety at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

This obvious conflict of interest highlights the notoriously cozy relationship between the Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals and industries they're charged with regulating. Citizens have had to fight foolish coal mines permits granted by an agency with employees collecting political donations from mine owners. The fatal accident last November at a mine owned by Chris Cline is a tragic reminder that regulation of the coal industry is literally a life and death issue.

The public deserves to know whether mines owned by Chris Cline were given special consideration during the permitting process or on safety standards. The Illinois Office of the Inspector General should investigate the Office of Mines and Mineral's oversight of all mines owned by Chris Cline to determine if regulations were rigorously enforced. Attorney General Lisa Madigan should determine whether any laws were violated by agency employees collecting political contributions from companies they regulate. If what happened isn't a crime, then it certainly should be.

Despite campaigning as an environmentalist, Governor Pat Quinn has failed to significantly reform the Office of Mines and Minerals. Many of the campaign contributions from industry were public knowledge when Quinn made Tony Mayville acting director. Mayville has donated to the Quinn campaign from both his party committee and his state representative campaign fund. The insertion of campaign cash into the administration of government oversight undermines confidence in the state's ability to protect public safety and the environment.

Conflicts of interest and lax enforcement at the Department of Natural Resources could become more dangerous if Illinois moves forward with fracking. Illinois must finally confront the ineffective regulatory culture of an agency that sees itself as an ally of industry rather than a protector of public health and the environment.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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