Records illuminate Senate hopeful Allen’s energy connections
By Anita Kumar,
RICHMOND — George Allen, Virginia’s leading Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, has made no secret of his interest in energy policy during his more than two decades in public office.
But financial disclosure forms, campaign records and Allen’s staff show how close the former governor and senator has become to the energy industry since he lost his Senate seat in 2006.
Allen earned nearly $350,000 from his consulting business that lists energy as one of its top priorities, and was paid at least $10,000 in consulting fees from a pair of the nation’s largest coal companies — Alpha Natural Resources and Peabody Energy. A separate nonprofit organization he formed after leaving the Senate tries to influence the public debate about energy in part with contributions from the industry.
Since joining the race in January, Allen has received more than $150,000 in campaign donations from the energy and natural-resources industries — more than all but four other 2012 Senate candidates in the nation.
Allen has repeatedly talked about his support for coal and offshore drilling over the years, but his campaign declined to release names of donors to the nonprofit group, clients at the business he runs or what he did for the energy industry as a consultant.
Instead, campaign staffers emphasize that he has always been interested in energy policy and that his stance on issues has not changed.
“For almost two decades, George Allen has been an outspoken advocate for diverse energy solutions that encourage conservation and innovation; utilize all of our abundant resources including clean coal technology, natural gas and oil; and remove outdated regulatory barriers to the next generation of nuclear power,’’ Allen spokesman Bill Riggs said in a statement. “Unleashing America’s plentiful energy resources will help create over a million new jobs, increase our supply of affordable energy, keep our money here in the USA and generate over $2 trillion in revenue without raising taxes.”
Allen, who faces a crowded field of opponents in June’s Republican primary — including tea party leader Jamie Radtke — is primarily running on economic issues, spending and taxes. He is expected to face Timothy M. Kaine, a former governor and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, in the November 2012 election to replace retiring Sen. James Webb (D).
As governor, Allen appointed the president of a concrete block company as head of the Department of Environmental Quality and cut agency staff by 100 people in an attempt to streamline government.
As senator, he voted for tax breaks to oil and coal companies and against fostering alternative sources, including solar and wind, because he said they were not dependable.
“Did George Allen as a senator vote with oil and coal interests because they gave him so much money? Or does the oil and coal industry still give consultant Allen money because he champions their issues?’’ asked Glen Besa, Virginia director for the Sierra Club. “What difference does it make? The voters simply need to know that . . . George Allen will vote with the oil and coal industry.”
Frank Maisano, an energy specialist at Bracewell & Giuliani in Washington, said that Allen, like other statewide candidates, simply advocates a complete approach that often draws the ire of environmentalists.
“It has to be an all-hands-on-deck approach. In today’s environment, all things have to be on the table,” he said. “Clearly, he’s got a strong track record on these issues.”
On June 15, 2010, as BP oil continued to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, Allen appeared on the Willis Report on Fox Business Network, where he was introduced as a former Republican governor and senator and an energy industry consultant.
“By the way, I’m not a consultant to the oil industry or energy industry,’’ Allen told host Gerri Willis. “I do have American Energy Freedom Center . . . but I follow energy closely because it matters a lot to jobs, our competitiveness and our balance of trade and, ultimately, our national security.”
Riggs acknowledged that Allen was working as an energy consultant at the time but indicated that he was speaking as a former elected official and recent book author — and not as a consultant. “He wasn’t on the show as a consultant,’’ he said.
Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political analyst at George Mason University, said Allen has no political motive for hiding his role with the energy industry — it would not hurt him in Virginia, where even some Democrats support developing the state’s considerable energy resources.
“I don’t see how hiding being pro-energy and getting money from energy [companies] helps. . . . I really think George Allen gets in more trouble when he shades the truth,” Farnsworth said.
Money and strategy
Since he entered the Senate race, Allen has received $151,106 from individuals and political action committees affiliated with the energy and natural-resources industries, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. Nearly $70,000 of the $2.8 million he raised was from mining interests and another $37,100 from those connected with oil and gas companies.
Allen serves as president of George Allen Strategies, which he formed after losing his reelection bid to Webb in 2006. It provides “companies and individuals with the most insightful and effective counsel, consulting and strategic advice on a range of issues including energy, technology and business development,’’ according to its Web site.
Allen has never been registered as a lobbyist and his company’s Web site does not indicate whether it offers lobbying services. But in early 2009 the company hired his former legislative director and counselor PaulUnger, a federal lobbyist who worked for lobbying powerhouse McGuire Woods. George Allen Strategies does not have to be registered as a lobbying firm because Unger, listed as a principal, is a contract employee.
Documents filed with the Senate show that Unger earned more than $100,000 in lobbying fees between July 1, 2009, and June 30 from George Allen Strategies clients Reliable Partners, a real estate and management company, and Navigators Global, a government relations and strategic communications firm.
Radtke said she thinks Allen is trying to avoid being called a lobbyist. “I think what’s really going on is he’s trying hard to avoid the lobbyist label,’’ she said.
Allen’s financial disclosure form filed Aug. 7 shows that he has been president of George Allen Strategies since July 2007, earning $347,787 between Jan. 1, 2010, and early last month from the company. Riggs said Allen is focused on his Senate campaign and that his day-to-day role at the company is “minimal.”
In 2009, Allen launched the American Energy Freedom Center, a 501(c)(3) organization, to educate and influence the public about energy issues. The center was formed as a project of the Institute for Energy Research, a conservative group that advocates for free-market energy and environmental policy.
Thomas Pyle, the institute’s president and a former oil industry lobbyist and aide to former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), said he helped start the center because he knew Allen and the men agree on many energy issues.
Institute records show that it gave the center nearly $140,000 in seed money its first year and Pyle said it also provided in-kind services before the center spun off. He said the institute has invested in other organizations across the nation, but this one was different because it was a result of the relationship between Pyle and Allen. “We do projects — but that was unique in that it was personality-driven,’’ Pyle said.
Allen’s financial disclosures show that he received $20,000 to be the center’s chairman between Jan. 1, 2010, and early last month, but Riggs said Allen has not been affiliated with the organization since December 2010.
Alexandra Liddy Bourne, the center’s executive director and a Republican activist who served in Allen’s administration, did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.