Friday, January 13, 2017

Coal baron elected W.Va. governor facing conflict-of-interest issues surrounding business holdings

Jim Justice at The Greenbrier
 (USA Today photo by H. Darr Beiser)
The same conflicts of interest playing out nationally with President-elect Donald Trump are occurring on a smaller scale in West Virginia, Jonathan Mattise and Michael Virtanen report for The Associated Press.

Jim Justice, the billionaire operator of Southern Coal Corp. and owner of The Greenbrier resort, was elected governor of West Virginia, and like Trump, "has refused to shed his holdings, giving assurances he can be trusted to act honorably," reports AP. "Like Trump, he has put his business empire in the hands of family members, though he said as recently as last month that he would put his holdings in a blind trust." Justice, who has around 100 businesses in his name, has real estate, farm and resort holdings. That has raised "questions about how state agencies that answer to him will regulate the safety of his coal mines, consider the tourism tax breaks at his resort, or pursue millions of dollars in past-due state taxes owed by some of his entities."

AP continues, "One difference in West Virginia, though, is that Justice, like some other governors around the country, is subject to more stringent conflict-of-interest rules than even the president of the U.S., who is exempt from the provisions that apply to Cabinet members and other government employees," reports AP. "West Virginia ethics law prohibits public officials, the governor included, from knowingly using their offices for their own private gain or that of someone else. State regulations also bar public officials from profiting from state contracts over which they may have control."

Justice told reporters, "I'm going to try to remove myself completely. In fact, I'm going to remove myself completely from the daily decisions, the decisions that they make. But I want you to realize just this: What is the alternative? I mean, is it best to just close the businesses that I have? They generate tens and tens and tens of millions of dollars to our state. It would be frivolous to do that. It'd be absolutely the stupidest thing in the world to do. I don't want a thing—and absolutely I want to underline that—you can't bring me anything to my business that's going to be beneficial to me in any way."

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