April 25, 2003
Conflicts of Interest Demand that Wife of Virginia Senator George Allen Decline Appointment to Dominion Resources Board
Statement by Tyson Slocum, Research Director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program
Today’s nomination of Susan Allen, the wife of U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), to the Dominion Resources’ board of directors presents an unacceptable conflict of interest. Sen. Allen’s campaign and personal finance connections to Dominion Resources now make it difficult to ensure that the public’s interest – rather than his personal financial interest – will be served. Public Citizen therefore urges Mrs. Allen to decline the directorship. If she does not, Sen. Allen should recuse himself from voting on any legislation that would have a significant impact on Dominion Resources.
The Allens have signed an agreement to not discuss issues involving Dominion, but it’s anyone’s guess how such a “Chinese wall” would be maintained behind closed doors. Sen. Allen’s spokesman has said Allen would recuse himself from voting on legislation in which Dominion is treated differently from “any similarly situated utility,” but that does not resolve the conflict. By recusing himself, Allen will be denying his constituents their voice in the Senate on matters involving a powerful political player and economic force in their state. By voting, his decisions will be tainted by his wife’s connections and his family’s financial priorities.
Sweeping energy legislation currently being considered by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee includes significant nuclear provisions that would directly benefit Dominion. For example, the bill endorses the U.S. Department of Energy’s fledgling Nuclear Power 2010 program under which Dominion is one of three energy companies that would be funded to pursue plans for new nuclear reactors.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a political action committee in which Dominion is involved, donated $24,400 to Allen’s campaign in the most recent election cycle, ranking Dominion as the ninth largest campaign contributor in his Senate career.*
Other congressional spouses – such as Susan Bayh, wife of Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.); Ruth Harkin, wife of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa); Richard C. Blum, husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.); and Anne Bingaman, wife of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) – serve on corporate boards. However, Mrs. Allen’s position with Dominion would create a relationship surpassed only by Enron cheerleaders Phil and Wendy Gramm., in which a Congress member’s spouse holds a position of power in a corporation that both enjoys a significant presence in the member’s home state and has made important contributions to the member’s campaigns.
Allen’s recent voting record on energy issues has consistently prioritized corporate profits over the public interest. Last year, he voted in favor of the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, an extension of Price-Anderson insurance subsidies for nuclear operators, and the failed energy legislation of the 107th Congress. All these votes were opposed by public interest and environmental advocates but supported by Dominion’s trade association, the Nuclear Energy Institute.
Mrs. Allen herself lacks expertise in the energy sector, and her close relationship to Congress would consistently undermine her duty of scrutinizing Dominion’s activities for shareholders. Mrs. Allen’s compensation for her year-long term would be about $55,000. This could call into question the objectivity of her decisions, and her appointment suggests political payback. Her familial conflicts should compel her to decline this position and take a step toward ending the uncomfortably close relationship between Congress and corporate America.
*According to the Centr for Responsive Politics, Sen. Allen received $24,400 from Dominion and its affiliates, ranking the company as the ninth largest campaign contributor in his Senate career.