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CSX Ignores Coal, Strengthens Local Ties at Convention

TAMPA, Fla. ( TheStreet) -- More than 10 blocks from the Republican National Convention, freight railroad giant CSX (CSX - Get Report) is welcoming delegations from various U.S. states with old passenger cars.

Coal, which CSX is the largest transporter of on the East Coast, has seized a central role in the 2012 election, but it would be unwise to assume that the company is in Tampa this week to garner coal sympathizers.

"We certainly support a balanced energy policy that includes coal; our chairman speaks pretty eloquently about that in each of our quarterly earnings about all of our markets," said Gary Sease, CSX's spokesman, as he sits on a cushy chair inside a restored passenger train the company used to run before Amtrak became the predominant transporter in the 1970s.

The railroad company is using track in downtown Tampa that is owned by one of its customers, packaged foods seller ConAgra (CAG - Get Report), to wine and dine groups in the vintage passenger cars.

The festivities aren't terribly formal. In fact, on Wednesday the Pennsylvania GOP delegation stopped in to enjoy a buffet of finger foods, listen to various officials give remarks and lounge around the platforms next to the trains.

Pennsylvania is the fourth largest producer of coal in the country, but Sease again brushed aside a question if this was more than a coincidence.

"We certainly file all appropriate lobbying reports and contributions report, I mean that's a law we comply fully with, and so that's public record," Sease said.

Indeed, statistics show that CSX has spent about $2 million in lobbying this year and spent $4.4 million in 2011, a significant amount of which concerned Surface Transportation Board issues, which have less to do with coal production and more to do with rates and mergers. The STB is the governmental agency that resolves railroad rates and service disputes and reviews railroad mergers.

The politicians who have benefited the most from CSX donations during this election season include coal-state lawmakers Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) at $17,500, Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.V.) at $15,500 and Rep. Ben Chandler (D., Ky.). But politicians Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.) at $14,500 and Rep. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) at $14,500 hail from states that produce virtually no coal.

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