Coal Tattoo

Sen. Manchin’s coal ties under scrutiny

It’s certainly no secret that Sen. Joe Manchin is a major “friend of coal,” but now his personal financial ties to the industry are under scrutiny by the national media.

The headline today from Greenwire, via The New York Times, was Sen. Manchin Maintains Lucrative Ties to Family-Owned Coal Company, and the story reported:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is more than just a supporter of his state’s influential coal producers — he’s a full-fledged industry insider.

On his financial disclosures for 2009 and 2010, Manchin reported significant earnings from Enersystems Inc., a coal brokerage that he helped run before his political star rose. In the 19 months before winning his Senate seat in a hard-fought special election, Manchin reported operating income of $1,363,916 from Enersystems. His next disclosure showed $417,255 in Enersystems income.

The story notes that Manchin’s financial ties to the industry are an “open secret among coal critics in his home state.” It doesn’t mention that Enersystems has been an issue before in his political campaigns. In 2004, for example, the Lloyd Jackson gubernatorial campaign tried unsuccessfully to link Manchin to non-union coal sales (subscription required)  and the controversy over those allegations actually dates back to the mid-1990s, (subscription required) when Manchin was a state senator running for governor.

Today’s article, though, reports:

Manchin’s office did not provide many details about the senator’s ties to the company in response to a series of specific questions. Public records and media reports show that he handed day-to-day control of Enersystems to his son after being elected West Virginia secretary of State in 2000 and moved his company holdings into a blind trust between 2005 and 2010, while he served as governor.

Manchin’s Enersystems holdings and other in-state assets are being transferred to a new blind trust that complies with federal rules, a source indicated to E&E Daily.

The story continued:

The prospect that Manchin’s $1.7 million-plus in recent Enersystems earnings might tilt him even more strongly pro-coal might seem remote, given the deep economic and cultural connections that the industry maintains in West Virginia.

In addition, the income from his family-owned energy brokerage violates no Senate ethics rules — thanks to a conflict-of-interest standard drawn broadly enough to prompt howls of dismay from some watchdogs in recent years. As congressional ethics expert Stan Brand explained it, no amount of outside income would be enough on its face to force a senator to step aside on issues in which he had a personal stake.

“The presumption is, you shouldn’t recuse yourself from voting unless your conflict is direct and different from a class of people who share the same interest,” Brand, a former House counsel now in private practice, said in an interview.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington executive director Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and congressional counsel, cited the case of ex-Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.). A hog farmer, he sought and won Ethics Committee approval to maintain his financial interests in the industry while voting and using his seat to press for the extension of subsidies to domestic pork producers.

The panel told Faircloth to proceed as he saw fit because “you’re not the only hog farmer” in the nation, Sloan said in an interview. “The only thing you can’t vote on is if it’s basically a private bill, affecting only your interests.”