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DCBureau.org releases investigation into New York legislator’s possible conflicts of interest
“Conflicts of Interest – New York Style” examines Republican State Senator George Winner’s actions involving gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale
Washington, DC, June 2, 2010 – The same year a powerful republican New York state senator endorsed industry-drafted revisions to gas drilling laws, his law firm represented the largest natural gas producer in the state. When asked whether he found his actions to be a conflict of interest, state Senator George Winner (R-NY) responded, “Not at all.”
There are two sides competing for money in the Marcellus Shale gas rush: landowners and energy companies. Winner makes money from both. He is an active partner in a law firm that profits from landowners and energy companies involved in natural gas deals.
“You either represent landowners, or you represent the companies because even though it’s not a direct conflict of interest, it’s a kind of philosophical conflict,” says Christopher Denton, an Elmira, N.Y., attorney and Winner’s old law partner.
Winner serves counties overlaying a tremendous store of natural gas, but his involvement in New York gas deals is widely unknown because the state does not require in depth financial disclosures. Winner admits his firm did “a couple real estate transactions” for Fortuna Energy Inc., a company that has aggressively pursued gas leases in his district. Winner says his involvement with the company is not a conflict of interest, but some constituents disagree.
Angela Burton, a resident of Winner’s district, says, “He is a politician and a lawyer and uses his business ripping everybody off when he is supposed to be representing us.”
One of Winner’s earliest legislative actions, after taking office in the state Senate in 2005, was amending gas drilling laws. He takes campaign contributions from energy interests, and his firm represents competing sides – landowners and energy companies.
“He never has released his client list, and he bristles mightily at suggestions to do that,” says Mayor John Tonello of Elmira, Winner’s political opponent for the 53rd District State Senate seat in 2008.
Tonello says Winner’s campaign contributions are the “best” examples that he has close ties to major energy companies. Records show between 1999 and 2009, Winner received approximately $28,000 in donations from the energy sector – including donors like Exxon Mobil Corp., Chesapeake Energy Corp., and the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York. His largest contributor from the industry and former client, Fortuna Energy Inc., donated $8,000.
Winner’s law firm – Keyser, Maloney and Winner LLP – represented Fortuna Energy Inc., now called Talisman Energy USA Inc., the same year he revised state drilling laws.
“I’ve had people from that area complain to me that Senator Winner is in a law firm that represents some of the companies that are involved in oil and gas exploration,” says New York Assemblyman William Parment (D-NY), who helped revise state drilling laws. “I think for political purposes it would be better for the situation not to exist.”
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