Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sam Graves, Andy Blunt and the Conflict of Interest Caper

One for the "Well! I'll be damned!" file. Time to give props to an ethical Republican!

Republican State Treasurer Sarah Steelman is sticking to her ethical guns and withholding tax incentives from an ethanol plant with investors who have first-degree ties to elected officeholders.

If the relatives do not divest,and do so quickly, the rest of the stockholders will find themselves bearing the burden of millions of dollars in interest on loans written to get the Show Me Ethanol plant operational.

A couple of years ago, Ms. Steelman issued a proclamation that she would not tolerate conflicts of interest and she would withhold state incentives from companies that did not comply. A part of that proclamation was that no investor in any company petitioning for preferential treatment, such as below-market interest rates on economic development loans, can have investors with ties to elected officials.

Seems simple enough, doesn't it?

Somehow, though, that simple, straight-forward, easily understood, common-sense edict just clean evaded Missouri Congressman Sam Graves (MO 06) and uber-lobbyist Andy Blunt, the more-weaselly brother of our nefarious governor, Matt Blunt.

But it gets better.

Sam Graves "forgot" about the investment in Show Me Ethanol when he filed his congressional financial disclosure paperwork - until reporters started digging around in his investments. Made aware of this development, his memory improved instantly, and he amended the paperwork two days before the story broke in Roll Call about Graves' specious financial reporting.

Just fifteen months ago, Sarah Steelman conditionally approved Show Me Ethanol to receive the below-market interest rates on loans for the development of the project, but when Steelman says "conditional" she means it.

One of those conditions is the prohibition against elected officials having connections to any investors who might benefit. Incentives will be withheld if a company has a single investor who is a legislator, statewide elected official, director of any state department, or the parent, sibling, spouse or offspring of any of those officials.

What can I say? She takes conflict of interest seriously, and is having no part of it on her watch.

Show Me Ethanol has been unable to comply. That is because investors include the characters mentioned above, as well as Republican state representative John Quinn of Chillicothe and his wife, Mary.

Graves mouthpiece, Jason Klindt, once cornered, tried to put a noble spin on it, saying that "She [Lesley Graves] didn't want Show Me to be held to some sort of different standards just because she was an investor."

Actually, I would take the opportunity and correct his willful dishonesty and point out that the company will enjoy a "special standard" - once she and the other prohibited investors bow out - but until then, the company has to play by the same rules everyone else is bound by. But he is a spin doctor, and just doing what spin-doctors do: shining the most flattering light possible on every utterance and act. And the pressure must be tremendous - his guy is facing a tough reelection battle, where he is being challenged by former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes - a savvy politician with skills, name recognition and money. In other words, for the first time since he slid into the seat in 2000, he is facing a real opponent - and she has a whole passel of supporters who will be pointing out all of his myriad ethical lapses for the next ten months.

Spin that, Jason.

Crossposted from Show Me Progress - Missouri's Progressive Politics Community

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