Thursday, September 12, 2013

Consol Energy - Ken Cuccinelli's Most Serious Conflict of Interest/Ethics Problem

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Even though he has donated $18,000 to a charity - a charity run by some of his large donors - in an effort to deflect the ongoing "Gift Gate" scandal arising from gifts he received from Jonnie R. Williams, Sr./Star Scientific, Ken Cuccinelli continues to take a beating and is accused of doing too little too late.  But by far the largest ethical/conflict of interest problem for Kookinelli is that relating to Consol Energy and the improper assistance Cuccinelli's office gave to private litigants in a civil lawsuit against Virginia landowners.   The Virginia news media should be jumping on this issue non-stop.  Given the timing of the AG's office's improper assistance and the subsequent large contributions made to Cuccinelli's campaign by the beneficiaries of such improper assistance, it is difficult to see the contributions as anything other than payments made in exchange for favorable treatment.  Another word for such payments might be bribes.   

As noted before in prior posts, I find it inconceivable that a senior Assistant Attorney General would have provided assistance to the energy company litigants without directives from above.  From my many dealings with the AG's office, such things simply do not happen and Cuccinelli's claims that he knew nothing about it just do not ring true.   From my experience in the oil and gas industry (both with a law firm representing energy companies and as in-house counsel for the oil and gas subsidiary of a Fortune 50 company), this type of assistance is NOT normal and simply does not happen under normal circumstances.  In short, it is difficult to explain why the improper assistance occurred except Cuccinelli's use of his office to benefit contributors in exchange for money.  In my view, the FBI needs to be investigating Cuccinelli for this behavior which would seem to be directly tied to very large campaign contributions.  A piece in The Checks and Balances Project lays out a timeline that shows that Cuccinelli's lies explanations to date do not add up.  Here are highlights:

The unfolding controversy around Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s involvement with CONSOL Energy Inc., a Pittsburgh-based fossil fuel (oil, gas and coal) company, has focused on the widely criticized assistance his office provided the company. It also has focused on the total amount of money Cuccinelli has received from CONSOL.

When forced to respond to C&BP recently, Cuccinelli has asserted the company “gave me $100,000 after I opposed them.” A comparison of the timing of contributions and actions that favored CONSOL paint a very different picture.

In the first eight years of Mr. Cuccinelli’s political career (state senate), his campaigns received a total of $3,500 from CONSOL. However, once elected to Attorney General, his office began taking actions that favored CONSOL and disadvantaged southwestern Virginia landowners who hadn’t been paid by CONSOL. A comparison of the timelines of actions and money show a pattern of accelerating support as favorable actions increased, bringing a total of $140,000 to Cuccinelli after the actions favorable to CONSOL began.

In June 2010, Mr. Cuccinelli issued an advisory opinion that limited the jurisdiction of the Virginia Gas and Oil Board that forced Virginia landowners to go to court over royalty payments, a move clearly in CONSOL Energy’s favor.

Two months later, in August 2010, his office sided with CONSOL and against Virginians in a lawsuit to recover improperly withheld royalties, helping the out-of-state oil company defend against a claim by Virginia landowners.

From August 2010 through April 2012, Cuccinelli’s office (through a Senior Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pigeon) began secretly providing legal research and advice to CONSOL’s attorneys regarding the lawsuit, outside of the scope of the AG office’s official capacity. The Virginia Inspector General is now investigating to determine whether the AG’s office misused taxpayer funds.

Finally, Mr. Cuccinelli, helped CONSOL again earlier this year when he issued another advisory opinion that barred local jurisdictions from using zoning laws to establish fracking moratoriums.

This situation stinks to high heaven and Virginia voters and taxpayers deserve answers as to why Cuccinelli was improperly assisting out of state energy companies against Virginia landowners and taxpayers.  To date, Cuccinelli runs from reporters when asked about this very dirty business. 

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