Gilliam graduated from University of Virginia's College at Wise, a community located in southwestern Virginia's coal country. Gilliam founded Cumberland Resources, later selling it to Massey Energy.
Richard Gilliam founded the Virginia-based coal mining company and sold it to Massey Energy in 2010 for $960 million, part of the proceeds of which he distributed to his employees. Gilliam is currently a board director for Endurance Gold Corp. (Vancouver, CA).
Gilliam and his wife Leslie have contributed to conservative front groups and think tanks supported by Charles and David Koch. The Giliams attended the Koch brothers' secretive strategy retreat in June, 2010, according to Mother Jones magazine.
Gilliam is a major donor to Republican candidates and committees. In 2010, Gilliam ranked #33 among top individual contributors to federal campaigns, with all $525,920 going to Republican candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In 2012, Gilliam spent $1,202,800, including $750,000 to Karl Rove's American Crossroads PAC and $250,000 to Mitt Romney's Restore Our Future PAC.
Gilliam also gave $100,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Virginia's Bob McConnell, who was later indicted on unrelated corruption charges. Marvin Gilliam gave McConnell another $75,000. Richard Gilliam was co-chair of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s inauguration in 2009. McDonnell, in turn, appointed family members to university boards.
Gilliam supports the Gilliam Center for Free Enterprise Leadership at James Madison University.
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