By Alexander Panetta
March 3, 2017 - A big-money political donor and philanthropist with personal ties to the coal industry and professional connections to the White House and the U.S. Senate is expected to be named Donald Trump’s ambassador to Canada.
Expectations within government, as well as recent media speculation, point to the Trump administration submitting Kelly Knight Craft’s name for the approval of the Senate.
Knight Craft would recognize some friendly faces in that chamber – starting with that of top Senate leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky woman has donated to and co-chaired fundraising efforts over the years for her home-state senator.
“Everything indicated to me that they get along well,” said Mac Brown, chairman of the Republican party of Kentucky, of the McConnell connection. “She’s an unbelievable, very nice woman who is extraordinarily hard-working….
“She’s gracious, and kind, and very giving.”
The chamber McConnell presides over is expected to deal with major issues affecting Canada over the coming years, including tax reform, trade disputes, and the potential renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
She has a history in philanthropy.
Knight Craft addressed the United Nations General Assembly after George W. Bush appointed her as an alternate delegate to the UN in 2007; she spoke to the hall about that president’s pledge to fight malaria and AIDS in Africa. She co-founded a charity to provide food, shelter, and clothing to Sri Lankan children left homeless or orphaned following the devastating Asian tsunami of 2004.
But those efforts drew mixed political reactions.
Her state’s Republican governor Ernie Fletcher praised the charity, called “With One Heart”: “I want to commend… their tireless efforts to provide relief to the innocent children of Sri Lanka.”
But soon the state’s Democratic attorney-general was investigating a spending history that went more to overhead expenses than charity. They announced a settlement of $25,634, which helped donations outpace overhead.
She’s also on the board of trustees at the University of Kentucky.
She was already involved in politics before her marriage a few years ago to coal billionaire Joe Craft.
A profile by McClatchy newspapers in 2012 called him possibly Kentucky’s most powerful non-elected individual. He was a critic of the Obama administration’s climate policies and drove an SUV with a licence plate stamped with the slogan, “Friends of Coal.”
Donation records compiled by the U.S. Center For Responsive Politics show a multimillion-dollar history of political donations – Craft’s Alliance Resource Management gave $2 million to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC in 2010, $250,000 in 2014, and $500,000 each to other Super PACs.
There are also donations in their own names. He’s donated to at least one senator, Pat Toomey, who sits on the Senate Finance committee that would be involved in NAFTA negotiations.
Knight Craft has also served on different inauguration committees – including Trump’s this year. She had already run the inaugural committee for her home-state governor Matt Bevin.
The latter was at Brown’s request.
He was leading the governor-elect’s transition team and was worried about being unable to handle the 2015 festivities as well. He asked Knight Craft if she could oversee the event – and she put it together over five weeks.
Brown recalled her working harder than some others involved in political activity.
“A lot of people come on board, they don’t wanna do anything… (But) her work ethic is probably the thing that strikes me the most – next to her generosity.” Asked to share any anecdotes about the inauguration planning, Brown couldn’t.
That’s because, Brown said, once she came on board, “I didn’t have to worry about it.”