For the next few weeks, the Sunday Gazette-Mail will be
investigating the cycle of influence in
the state Legislature - how
campaign contributions, lobbyist spending and personal
interests affect legislation.
Sen. Mike Ross, D-Randolph, has a personal business interest in
Ross sits on the Senate's Natural
Resources Committee and the Energy, Industry and Mining
which act on bills affecting the oil and gas industry.
In 1998, Ross sponsored a bill that would have reduced taxes on oil and
gas producers by $3
million. His critics pointed out that Ross' own
companies would have received tax breaks under
Ross' holdings in oil and gas point out a dilemma facing part-time
legislators - how they
balance personal finances and public
Ross says he is promoting the entire oil and gas industry, including
its employees and small
operators. He compares his role as a state
to look out for
the interests of the whole team, not any one player," he
An environmental lobbyist disagrees with the comparison.
"An umpire is by definition an impartial arbitrator," said Vivian
Stockman, lobbyist with the
West Virginia Environmental Council, which
has opposed some of Ross' proposals. "Any umpire
found to have accepted
money from a player should be fired."
"If you eliminated everybody with another interest from the
Legislature, you wouldn't have
anybody left to serve," Ross
The Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit
organization based in Washington,
released results of a study of the
financial ties between legislators in all 50 states and the
regulate. The report showed that nearly half the states' disclosure
to provide the public with basic information on
For West Virginia, center researchers analyzed financial disclosure
forms filed in 1999. The
information covered the 108 lawmakers who were
in office in 1998.
According to the study of West Virginia's legislators:
- 19 percent sat on a committee that regulated their professional or
- 12 percent had financial ties to businesses or organizations that
lobby state government.
- 30 percent received income from a government agency other than the
In addition, CPI ranked West Virginia 43rd in the nation for its
financial disclosure laws for
state legislators. Disclosure laws force
public officials to tell where they get their income -
employers, business dealings and land holdings.
The West Virginia ethics laws require legislators to list their
employers and minimal
investment information. CPI flunked West
Virginia's law for not requiring information about
real estate holdings, and positions on boards of corporations.
The state of Washington, which ranked first in the survey, requires
lawmakers to list almost
all sources of income and financial holdings
for themselves and their immediate family. For
example, their financial
disclosure forms look at both real estate and family income. This
of disclosure has helped uncover land deals where politicians were
trying to steer public works
projects to relatives, said Doug