West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin made a not-so-surprising announcement earlier this month that he will not seek reelection to the Senate next year. His announcement came after a monthslong flirtation with No Labels, a centrist political organization that is preparing to run a third-party candidate for president should both major parties’ candidates fail to moderate their politics “towards the center.”
In the background, Manchin has been propping up a new third-way organization. Along with his daughter Heather Bresch, he has been soliciting funds for a new nonprofit that, according to documents reviewed by The Intercept, is being overseen by the senator’s longtime associates who became significant power players in West Virginia after receiving plum appointments during Manchin’s rise to the top of the state Democratic Party.
Bresch, a former pharmaceutical executive, registered Americans Together in July as a 501(c)(4), a legal classification that means it is not required to publicly disclose its donors. While the senator’s daughter has said the organization will be set apart from Manchin’s political endeavors, few restrictions exist on how it can spend its money. Should Manchin run for president on the No Labels ticket, Americans Together could work to boost his candidacy or oppose other presidential campaigns through what’s known as an independent expenditure. But the nonprofit could also provide Manchin a financial cushion with few spending restrictions should he leave politics altogether.
Manchin and Bresch did not respond to requests for comment.
Craig Holman, a lobbying and ethics expert at Public Citizen, told The Intercept that dark-money nonprofits “are frequently and almost always set up by someone opening a presidential run intended to provide a means for unlimited contributions from external sources that are frequently used to indirectly benefit a presidential campaign.”
“By having a family member or former colleague set up 501(c)(4), that provides the kind of distance that makes it easy to avoid coordination restrictions,” Holman added, referring to federal election laws that prohibit campaigns from coordinating with nonprofits. “If a daughter or former staffer set it up, it is difficult to prove coordination. These dark-money groups can get away with a lot.”
An independent expenditure, however, is just one way the nonprofit could spend its money.
“It can be used for lobbying expenditures, for instance,” Holman said. “So if Manchin ends up losing and becomes part of a lobbying firm, the funds can be used for the lobbying activities as long as he’s not a candidate. At no point does the fund have to be dissolved. He can hang on to it forever.”
Manchin and Bresch are seeking to raise $100 million for Americans Together “to change the national narrative and garner support for those willing to prioritize policy and country over party and politics,” according to a solicitation obtained by the Wall Street Journal in August. The nonprofit’s formation follows a record windfall from No Labels, which doubled its fundraising to over $20 million in 2022 and began increasing the six-figure salaries paid to its executives ahead of its planned 2024 presidential stunt.
Manchin’s name does not appear on Americans Together’s paperwork — and Bresch told the Wall Street Journal that the organization will be divorced from her father’s political prospects — but the senator himself was making fundraising pitches for the organization. West Virginia secretary of state filings, meanwhile, show that Bresch has tapped her father’s longtime allies to join her in overseeing the organization.
Nick Casey, Manchin’s former campaign treasurer, is listed on Americans Together’s filing as treasurer, while Steve Farmer, a Republican lawyer who has known Manchin for decades, is listed as secretary. Other than Bresch, they are the only two individuals listed on the group’s filing. Casey and Farmer, both prominent lawyers in West Virginia, did not respond to requests for comment.
Casey worked for Manchin during his statewide races for secretary of state and governor in the early 2000s. He helped overtake the infrastructure of the West Virginia Democratic Party, which was purged after Manchin assumed control of the political machine, eventually taking the reins as party chair from 2004 until 2010, the year Manchin left state politics for the U.S. Senate. (Casey went on to work for Gov. Jim Justice, who fired him in 2017 after the governor switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. Justice is now seeking the Senate seat that Manchin is set to vacate.)
As governor, Manchin appointed Farmer to the West Virginia University board of governors. In 2008, former WVU football coach Rich Rodriguez accused Farmer of conspiring with Manchin, other members of the board of governors, and university president Mike Garrison, himself appointed by the board, to force him into signing a contract with a clause requiring him to pay out $4 million should he leave before the expiration of his contract. All of the WVU appointees denied Rodriguez’s allegations, and Rodriguez ultimately settled a related lawsuit with the university.
Farmer also served on the WVU board of governors as Bresch was ensnared in a scandal over whether she had completed required coursework to receive an advanced business degree from the university. The scandal resulted in multiple firings and an internal review that determined Bresch’s grades had been “pulled from thin air.” Bresch, who would go on to become CEO of the EpiPen maker Mylan, emerged from the drama relatively unscathed.
Casey and Farmer have stood by Manchin after he faced his own set of scandals, including probes the FBI and IRS launched into his inner circle and business associates in West Virginia, and as he grew in notoriety on the national political stage.
In the face of Donald Trump’s broadsides in 2018, Farmer spoke to the Daily Beast about how Manchin should respond. “If Trump wants something positive for West Virginia, Manchin will support it regardless of what the president says about him personally,” Farmer said. “He can’t control the president’s behavior—he can only control his own.”
In 2021, as Manchin faced pressure for his intransigence on helping to pass key parts of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda, Casey said of the senator, “You’re in the hot seat when you’re a quarterback, but it’s pretty satisfying when you make progress,” adding that Manchin was “the greatest QB who never got to start at West Virginia University — just ask him.”
There is a long history of the Manchin family working to enrich one another through their professional dealings. After assuming the role of CEO of Mylan in 2012, Bresch oversaw the price hike of EpiPens by hundreds of dollars. At the same time, Bresch’s mother and Manchin’s wife, Gayle Manchin, worked to ensure that schools were required to carry, and therefore pay for, EpiPens while she served atop the National Association of State Boards of Education.
Years later, as part of an effort to woo the senator into supporting White House legislative priorities, Biden appointed Gayle Manchin to lead the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal agency overseeing development efforts for Appalachian states. As The Intercept first reported, the Manchins directed tens of millions of dollars to the Canaan Valley and surrounding wilderness area where the couple own a vacation condo.
Before his political rise, Manchin founded a coal brokerage firm that has continued to supply his family with significant sums of income to this day. The company, Enersystems, is now overseen by Manchin’s son, Joe Manchin IV.
The company makes hundreds of thousands every year overseeing waste coal transfers to the Grant Town power plant outside Fairmont, West Virginia. The plant has faced closure repeatedly only to be saved time and time again by rate hikes for consumers.
American Bituminous Power Partners, or AmBit, the operator of the financially troubled plant, has been locked in a yearslong legal battle with Horizon Ventures, the company leasing the land upon which the Grant Town power plant sits. Last month, a judge ordered AmBit to pay a decade’s worth of back rent to Horizon Ventures, according to legal documents reviewed by The Intercept.
Horizon could not only drive AmBit into financial ruin, but also evict it entirely if it fails to pay what the court has ordered it to fork over. The closing of Grant Town would deal a fatal blow to Enersystems, which funnels its entire coal supply to the Grant Town plant.
Horizon is run by Stanley Sears, a longtime business owner and political player in West Virginia who has known Manchin since the start of his political career. The dispute over the plant led to a falling out between Manchin and Sears, as well as his son, Scott Sears, who served as Manchin’s right hand on the campaign trail and in the governor’s office. Scott Sears, who left the Democratic Party to support Trump, said without a serious path to the presidency, and a foreclosed seat in the Senate, it’s time for his onetime friend to exit politics.
“Since he’s fucked and can’t recover,” Sears told The Intercept, “next best thing is to raise as much money as he can and walk away and be happy.”