Governors unwittingly recruited by biofuel lobby
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 All have withdrawn since September or intend to soon.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.
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.