Virginia Uranium and the Englins

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    I would like to refocus the debate here over Del. David Englin’s decision to accept an all-expense-paid trip to France for himself and his spouse courtesy of Virginia Uranium onto the broader question of corporate lobbying and appearances of impropriety.

    David Englin is an effective and generally progressive legislator with whom I usually agree (except recently on redistricting).  As an advisory board member of the VA League of Conservation Voters (disclaimer: the remarks here are solely my own), I’ve been pleased to see him receive just accolades for his work on the environment. And it goes without saying that legislators should make every effort to be informed on important issues like the potential impacts of uranium mining on public health and our environment. Allegations of corruption or influence peddling are baseless.

    Nonetheless, Del. Englin and the other legislators who accepted this trip from VA Uranium made a mistake. Further, the Englin family’s vigorous defense of it is unfortunate and their attacks on activists (“whacktivists”??) who question its propriety are particularly over the top.  

    I point to the excerpted provisions of Virginia law below and ask simply whether a reasonable person considering the spirit, if not the letter, of these provisions, would have taken this trip.  

    http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bi…

    § 30-103. Prohibited conduct.

    No legislator shall:

    1. Solicit or accept money or other thing of value for services performed within the scope of his official duties, except the compensation, expenses or other remuneration paid to him by the General Assembly. This prohibition shall not apply to the acceptance of special benefits which may be authorized by law;

    5. Accept any money, loan, gift, favor, service, or business or professional opportunity that reasonably tends to influence him in the performance of his official duties. This subdivision shall not apply to any political contribution actually used for political campaign or constituent service purposes and reported as required by Chapter 9.3 (§ 24.2-945 et seq.) of Title 24.2;

    10. Accept a gift from a person who has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance of the legislator’s official duties under circumstances where the timing and nature of the gift would cause a reasonable person to question the legislator’s impartiality in the matter affecting the donor. Violations of this subdivision shall not be subject to criminal law penalties; or

    11. Accept gifts from sources on a basis so frequent as to raise an appearance of the use of his public office for private gain. Violations of this subdivision shall not be subject to criminal law penalties.

    I have worked at the national level on exposing right-wing junkets for judges and other attempts by corporations and ideological groups to “indoctrinate” or otherwise influence elected officials and judges on behalf of what is generally an anti-regulatory agenda.  See, e.g., http://www.communityrights.org…  No participant ever claims these trips unduly influence them, and so they continue.  Still there is obviously a reason why companies do this sort of thing.  Over time, these kinds of gifts can have an affect in influencing ideas and ultimately behavior.

    The provision of luxury accommodations in attractive locales for a legislator and his spouse(?) are nice perks unrelated to legitimate fact finding.  Why accept them?  When wealthy interests with business before government come offering legislators free trips and other goodies, the smart thing to do to decline.

    That the trip may not violate the letter of the law is really no defense.  Appearances matter, too.  If nothing else, this trip remains an example of the undue influence and access that wealthy corporate interests have on legislation.  Most environmental groups cannot afford to treat legislators to similar trips to show a different perspective on issues like this.

    Given the Washington Post coverage (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/… and http://www.washingtonpost.com/… and the reaction of other NoVa candidates and officials, it’s clear reasonable people and not just “whacktivists” believe the trip raises the appearance of impropriety.  

    That this point needs to be debated and defended is disappointing.    

    • sbenglin

      Like this one, provided by LCV, to indoctrinate or otherwise influence elected officials on behalf of a regulatory agenda:

      http://www.vpap.org/candidates

    • sbenglin

      That this point needs to be debated and defended is disappointing.

      Especially in the context of attacking a solid progressive, pro-environment legislator who’s has stood out as a champion for the issues you care about during his tenure in elected office, and leaving completely ignored his many colleagues who have not taken the gift you object to, but have voted the wrong way again and again, and will continue to.

    • DanielK

      I have no dog in this fight and have refrained from really jumping in with the exception of a few tweets here or there. I wanted to say my peace and leave it at that.  Attack me if you will on here but if you bother me on my Twitter feed.

      Throughout this whole uproar about David Englin taking a paid trip to France he has never attacked any progressives or has been hostile to them.  The amount of support he has from the progressive community and the number of volunteers he always has is a clear indication of that.  If anything, I believe this whole fiasco will get him even more support in the end because those people he represents, his constituents aren’t the ones attacking him.  

      It’s also refreshing to see a politician actually go to the blogs and respond to this stuff.  Are some of the “concerns” legitimate?  Absolutely.  “True progressives” like Lowell and even Ben has demonstrated the proper way to raise those issues through the blogosphere.  Throughout the whole course of that debate it remained just that, a debate focused on issues, beliefs and interpretations.  I remember a while back a certain Delegate criticized me for going on the blogs about an issue and it was pretty discouraging listening to this Democratic representative talk down about Democratic bloggers.  I don’t believe referring to “whacktivists” referred to progressives like you Jason, Lowell or others who respectfully disagree which his trip.  

      Shayna has every right to defend her husband’s position. She is not the one is elected office and the vile attacks should be addressed and gone after.  What has happened over the last few days did not come from “true progressives” like Lowell and others.  As someone who has been front paged on this blog many times, none of these stories received any front page publishing and I can see why. Usually that says something.  

      Finally, Go ahead and attack me but going into this election year we don’t need “fringe” elements of our party doing this.  I don’t consider “progressives” as those who behave the way Bob and others have on this blog.  Seriously, any credibility people like Bob could have gained from this was completely flushed down the drain when he started using the word “whore”.  Sadly, we always talk about the Tea Party and when Bob introduced words like that it is no different than what we see with, and in some cases worse than the vile words the Tea Party has brought into the political debate.  Fortunately for Democrats, the Jane Hamsher wing of the Democratic Party has lost significant credibility due to behavior like this and lose any moral high ground in the debate even if people believe they are right.  I’ve always viewed Democrats to being to a higher standard than that and it’s not something I’ve seen here.  If what David Englin did was corrupt then a complaint should be made even though it is not a criminal violation there are still methods and procedures for him to be held accountable.  Just because someone thinks or wants something to be illegal doesn’t make it illegal and weakens an argument as being out of touch with reality.  

      So, that is my say.  I posted on Jason’s thread because of the three posted here it’s the most reasoned and respectable one and even if I don’t agree with everything it was written in a way that I can respect what was produced in it, to include his follow up comment. Amiee’s is well written, even though I don’t necessarily agree with everything her comments were nowhere near as vile as those of Bob’s and therefore I still hold her ideas with credibility.