Joe Manchin’s Coal Dealings Are What Influence Peddling Looks Like

Way back in 2010, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was a bit fed up with the fact that, on the subject of how money and politics collide, a majority of his fellow justices apparently were dwelling on the Big Rock Candy Mountain. In his dissent to the majority opinion in the case of Citizen United v. FECStevens attempted to remind his charmingly child-like colleagues that they’d just legalized influence peddling, and that they had inaugurated a boom market in congressional sublets.

…the difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind. And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf. Corruption operates along a spectrum, and the majority’s apparent belief that quid pro quo arrangements can be neatly demarcated from other improper influences does not accord with the theory or reality of politics. It certainly does not accord with the Record Congress developed in passing BCRA, a record that stands as a remarkable testament to the energy and ingenuity with which corporations, unions, lobbyists, and politicians may go about scratching each other’s backs—and which amply supported Congress ‘ determination to target a limited set of especially destructive practices.

Which brings us, through Stevens’ obvious clairvoyance, to Senator Joe Manchin (D-Bituminous), the senior senator from West Virginia, thoroughgoing nuisance to his party, thoroughgoing danger to his planet and, if the New York Times is to be believed, a man who knows who his true constituents are.

The Grant Town power plant is also the link between the coal industry and the personal finances of Joe Manchin III, the Democrat who rose through state politics to reach the United States Senate, where, through the vagaries of electoral politics, he is now the single most important figure shaping the nation’s energy and climate policy. Mr. Manchin’s ties to the Grant Town plant date to 1987, when he had just been elected to the West Virginia Senate, a part-time job with base pay of $6,500. His family’s carpet business was struggling.

Opportunity arrived in the form of two developers who wanted to build a power plant in Grant Town, just outside Mr. Manchin’s district. Mr. Manchin, whose grandfather went to work in the mines at age 9 and whose uncle died in a mining accident, helped the developers clear bureaucratic hurdles. Then he did something beyond routine constituent services. He went into business with the Grant Town power plant.

Mr. Manchin supplied a type of low-grade coal mixed with rock and clay known as “gob” that is typically cast aside as junk by mining companies but can be burned to produce electricity. In addition, he arranged to receive a slice of the revenue from electricity generated by the plant — electric bills paid by his constituents. The deal inked decades ago has made Mr. Manchin, now 74, a rich man.

And, as my friend Mike Elk put it on the electric Twitter machine, we can now call Manchin a true gobshite. And his reach, as such, extends far beyond an obscure portion of West Virginia.

Records show that several energy companies have held ownership stakes in the power plant, major corporations with interests far beyond West Virginia. At various points, those corporations have sought to influence the Senate, including legislation before committees on which Mr. Manchin sat, creating what ethics experts describe as a conflict of interest.

As the pivotal vote in an evenly split Senate, Mr. Manchin has blocked legislation that would speed the country’s transition to wind, solar and other clean energy and away from coal, oil and gas, the burning of which is dangerously heating the planet. With the war in Ukraine and resulting calls to boycott Russian gas, Mr. Manchin has joined Republicans to press for more American gas and oil production to fill the gap on the world market.

The NYT story is startling for its lack of comfortable ambiguity as regards the distance between the quid and the quo. It is not often that an operation with the clout of the Times so directly connects the influence to its peddling. It is totally remarkable and, truth be told, it shouldn’t be so rare a thing as to stand out the way this investigation does.

This account is based on thousands of pages of documents from lawsuits, land records, state regulatory hearings, lobbying and financial disclosures, federal energy data and other records spanning more than three decades. The Times also spoke with three dozen former business associates, current and former government officials, and industry experts. The documents and interviews show that at every level of Mr. Manchin’s political career, from state lawmaker to US senator, his official actions have benefited his financial interest in the Grant Town plant, blurring the line between public business and private gain.

I’d argue, with the late Justice Stevens, that his colleagues pretty much obliterated that line, but it’s still valuable to have this clear a window—both into how one senator was sublet, and into the terms of the transaction. Somebody get copies of this story down to Tuvalu, so its citizens can read it before their country disappears.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *