- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2012

For many candidates in energy-boom states, support for increased oil and gas drilling isn’t just sound policy — it’s also good for their personal business.

A sampling by The Washington Times of Senate hopefuls in major oil- and gas-producing states — including Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Texas — found that the vast majority have personal investments in the industry.

Although there is nothing illegal about the holdings, critics say the candidates, along with many lawmakers with similar assets, have crossed an ethical line by standing to profit from policies that they will have a hand in crafting.

“It’s a huge conflict of interest that [members of Congress and candidates] are allowed to hold stock in the very industries they regulate,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “You also might have inside information that you’re receiving about a company” as a result of the investments.

In Ohio, Democrats have pounced on Republican Senate hopeful Josh Mandel’s $79,000 in oil and gas holdings. Mr. Mandel’s portfolio includes at least $15,000 in assets with Exxon Mobil Corp., in addition to investments in Genesis Energy Partnership, ConocoPhillips, Plains All American Pipeline and Western Gas Partners LP.

Those companies, along with many others across the U.S., have benefited greatly from the nation’s ongoing natural gas boom.

Many Republicans, including Mr. Mandel, support increased domestic oil and gas drilling as the surest way to free the U.S. from foreign fuels.

“When it comes to a policy that could generate profit for him personally, [Mr. Mandel] is 100 percent in favor,” Matt Thornton, a spokesman for the American Bridge 21st Century super PAC that backs incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, recently told the state’s Bucyrus Telegraph Forum newspaper.

Mr. Mandel’s spokesman, Travis Considine, called those accusations “ridiculous” and “a red herring” and stressed that the candidate’s support for increased gas drilling is driven solely by the desire to create jobs and make the nation more energy-independent.

Mr. Mandel certainly isn’t alone. Tom Smith, a Republican challenging Sen. Robert Casey in Pennsylvania, holds at least $15,000 in stock with a gas drilling firm. Mr. Smith is also the sole member of Northern Elk Development, a “coal royalty override company” worth up to $5 million.

In addition, he owns land hosting a natural gas well worth at least $100,000, financial disclosure reports show.

David Dewhurst, a Texas Republican seeking an open Senate seat, has at least $50,000 invested with Calpine Corp., which owns and leases natural gas and geothermal power plants.

He also has at least $50,000 invested in Oilwell Varco Inc., which makes components for offshore drilling rigs. Records show Mr. Dewhurst made at least $15,000 off of that investment last year, in addition to other profitable investments.

When questioned about the holdings, both campaigns redirected their attention toward U.S. energy policy, which they would be in positions to influence if elected.

“David Dewhurst has been proud to work in the energy industry and create jobs in the energy industry across America,” campaign spokesman Enrique Marquez said in a statement. “As a U.S. senator, he will continue to cut down on regulation that is suffocating the energy industry and get Americans back to work.”

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