Gov­er­nors un­wit­tingly re­cruited by bio­fuel lobby

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Texas gov­er­nors have not been fans of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s re­new­able fu­els man­date, so it was a sur­prise to Gov. Greg Ab­bott when he dis­cov­ered this week the Gov­er­nors’ Bio­fu­els Coali­tion has been list­ing him as a key mem­ber of the group.

The fresh­man Repub­li­can says the GBC listed him with­out ever ask­ing if he wanted to be a mem­ber — one of a host of Repub­li­can gov­er­nors who say they were never asked and who say the green-friendly coali­tion may have skirted tax laws by list­ing them as “di­rec­tors” on the GBC’s non­profit forms filed with the IRS.

New Mex­ico has even threat­ened lit­i­ga­tion if the GBC does not file amended tax forms that no longer list Gov. Su­sana Martinez as a direc­tor. Ms. Martinez, along with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Ha­ley, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal and Mis­sis­sippi Gov. Phil Bryant all are listed as GBC “di­rec­tors” on 2013 tax doc­u­ments. All have with­drawn since Septem­ber or in­tend to soon.

“Since Gover­nor Martinez took of­fice in 2011, the coali­tion has not treated her as a mem­ber. The coali­tion has never pro­vided Gover­nor Martinez with no­tices to its an­nual or spe­cial meet­ings … or com­mu­ni­cated with her in any mean­ing­ful way about the ini­tia­tives or law­suits of the coali­tion,” Jes­sica M. Her­nan­dez, gen­eral coun­sel for Ms. Martinez, wrote in a let­ter to the coali­tion last month.

“It would be a best prac­tice for your or­ga­ni­za­tion to ac­tu­ally com­mu­ni­cate with those elected of­fi­cials who have not in fact af­fir­ma­tively ex­pressed their in­di­vid­ual in­tent to be a mem­ber and ac­tu­ally de­ter­mine if they seek membership,” Ms. Her­nan­dez wrote.

Gov­er­nors in both Texas and South Carolina said they would with­draw from the group af­ter be­ing alerted to their pur­ported membership this week.

“South Carolina will be send­ing a let­ter to with­draw from the coali­tion within the week,” said Chaney Adams, press sec­re­tary for Ms. Ha­ley.

But the is­sue goes be­yond er­ro­neous membership lists on the coali­tion’s web­site. The GBC, founded in the early 1990s to pro­mote ethanol, and which now also ad­vo­cates for other bio­fu­els, has been ruled a char­ity by the IRS, which means it is sup­posed to list its top of­fi­cers and em­ploy­ees on its forms.

The GBC, in sev­eral fil­ings, promised the IRS that the gov­er­nors “af­fir­ma­tively elected to join the coali­tion,” and said the gov­ern­ing body was cho­sen by ma­jor­ity vote of all of the gov­er­nors in­volved and that the an­nual tax re­turn was re­viewed by at least some of those gov­er­nors.

GBC Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Larry Pearce said they send a let­ter to gov­er­nors each year ask­ing them whether they want to be part of the group. If they don’t get a re­ply, they as­sume that means the gover­nor wants to be in.

He pro­vided The Wash­ing­ton Times this year’s crop of let­ters, dated Jan. 26, 2015, ad­dressed to 30 gov­er­nors and signed by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Repub­li­can and GBC chair­man, and Mis­souri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Demo­crat and the group’s vice chair­man — though the let­ters wrongly iden­tify Mr. Nixon as the gover­nor of Illi­nois, not Mis­souri.

“To set the record straight, ev­ery year we send a wel­come let­ter to all the gov­er­nors … out­lin­ing the work the gov­er­nors are go­ing to be work­ing on and ask­ing them to af­firm their rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the coali­tion,” Mr. Pearce said. “That gives the gov­er­nors an op­por­tu­nity to, one, re­con­sider whether they want to con­tinue be­ing a mem­ber or, if they don’t want to make any changes, to be si­lent.”

The GBC’s by­laws sug­gest that states sim­ply will re­main on the rolls even when a new gover­nor comes to power and could be in­ter­preted to mean that, as far as the coali­tion is con­cerned, it is a new gover­nor’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­move his state.

“The coali­tion shall be com­posed of the gov­er­nors of states or chief ex­ec­u­tives of rec­og­nized United States Ter­ri­to­ries who have af­fir­ma­tively elected to join the coali­tion. Membership will con­tinue un­til 30 days af­ter writ­ten res­ig­na­tion is sub­mit­ted to the chair by the gover­nor of a state,” reads a por­tion of sec­tion 3.01 of the GBC’s by­laws.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Texas Gov. Greg Ab­bott says the Gov­er­nors’ Bio­fu­els Coali­tion list­ing him as a key mem­ber with­out ever ask­ing if he wanted to be a mem­ber.

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