Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., quietly lobbied the Biden administration to approve a funding application from a coalition of groups that included an organization chaired by his campaign treasurer.
On Oct. 15, 2021, Manchin personally contacted Alejandra Castillo — the Department of Commerce's (DOC) assistant secretary for economic development — informing her of his strong support for the West Virginia-based Appalachian Climate Technology (ACT) Now coalition's application for $100 million in federal funding, according to a letter obtained by Fox News Digital.
The ACT Now coalition is led by the Coalfield Development Corporation and composed of several West Virginia municipalities, schools and organizations including the Charleston Area Alliance, an economic development group chaired by Jack Rossi who is also listed as the treasurer of the Joe Manchin for Senate campaign in federal elections filings.
"Please accept this letter as a record of my support for Coalfield Development Corporation, their respective coalition partners, and this application," Manchin wrote in October 2021 to Castillo. "I understand that, if approved, funding provided by this opportunity will be utilized to support the Appalachian Climate Technology Now Initiative."
"The ACT Now Initiative will create an industrial cluster around a number of climate resilience technologies while focusing on the development of resilient infrastructure and site readiness, attracting, training and retaining a skilled workforce, fostering entrepreneurship and startups, and building community capacity," he continued.
The West Virginia Democrat didn't mention his connection to Rossi in the letter.
Months earlier, the ACT Now coalition submitted an application with the DOC's Economic Development Administration to be one of the 20-30 recipients of the $1 billion to be doled out under the American Rescue Plan's Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The coalition vowed to use program funds to "develop and scale climate resilient industries" and attract green energy investments in central Appalachia.
The American Rescue Plan, President Biden's signature $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, passed with a slim majority in March 2021 after Manchin pledged to support it.
Less than two months after Manchin's letter advocating for ACT Now to be approved for the funding, the DOC announced the coalition was selected as one of the program's 60 finalists after the agency received 529 total applications. As a finalist, ACT Now was given $500,000 and the ability to compete for up to $100 million in funding.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the high interest in the program showed "the demand for the Build Back Better agenda."
The ACT Now coalition eventually submitted an application in March 2022 requesting $75 million in Build Back Better Regional Challenge funds. And, in September, the DOC announced the coalition was one of just 21 finalists to be selected as recipients for the funding. The group was approved for several grant awards totaling $62.8 million.
"West Virginia continues to see the benefits of the critical American Rescue Plan investments that drive economic development and create good-paying, long-term jobs, and today’s announcement is great news for our entire state," Manchin said in a statement on Sept. 2.
"It is a testament to our hardworking fellow West Virginians and forward-thinking communities that West Virginia was one of just 21 recipients of the EDA’s Regional Challenge program," he continued. "I’m pleased the EDA is investing nearly $63 million in communities across southern West Virginia to strengthen local economies, support our energy industries and expand job opportunities."
The $62.8 million package included eight separate grants, the largest of which — $13 million for the Learning, Innovation, Food & Technology (LIFT) Center in Charleston, West Virginia — benefits Charleston Area Alliance, the group Manchin's campaign treasurer Rossi chairs.
In addition to the Charleston Area Alliance, the City of Charleston, Marshall University, private sector entities and Coalfield Development Corporation also joined in on the LIFT Center project. The LIFT Center is set to include a green energy battery research institute, job training center, food hub and other renewable energy facilities.
"We sought the Senator’s support as did several other West Virginia based applications for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge. I would imagine all of the finalists in this national competition did the same with their Congressional leaders," Coalfield Development CEO Brandon Dennison told Fox News Digital in an email.
"Coalfield Development is not a political organization. ACT Now is not a political coalition," he continued. "As far as I know the chairs of any of the boards involved in ACT Now are unpaid volunteers. I do not follow politics closely enough to know who the treasurers of campaigns are."
Dennison added he requested Manchin advocate for ACT Now's application to the Department of Commerce on behalf of the coalition after being named a finalist in December 2021. That letter and letters from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Republican Gov. Jim Justice were included in the coalition's March 2022 application.
The Department of Commerce, Manchin's office and Rossi didn't respond to requests for comment.