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Shale Gas Conflict Renews Call for Better Disclosure

June 21, 2010

ALBANY, N.Y. - A recent investigation into a New York State lawmaker's apparent conflict of interest is renewing calls for tougher standards of disclosure for officeholders. The situation stems from State Sen. George Winner's endorsement of industry-drafted revisions to gas drilling laws. That endorsement came as his law firm represented the state's largest natural gas producer.

The matter is detailed in an investigative report by DCBureau.org, a report that will be re-issued as a video Tuesday.

Winner's former law partner, Christopher Denton, says things like this happen because lawmakers who are also attorneys are not required to disclose their client list to the Ethics Commission.

"Now if you're a legislator and there is a lot of legislation being proposed to you and you represent companies that are proposing that legislation, that ought to be fully disclosed."

Winner acknowledges his firm has done real estate deals with a gas producer, but denies a conflict of interest. He represents the shale-oil-rich Elmira area, but has announced that he will not be seeking re-election.

Angela Burton is a co-owner of about 48 acres of land in Corning. She was involved in a dispute with Sen. Winner's law firm over the mineral rights. She calls Winner a "pol-er."

"Which is a politician and a lawyer, that should not be allowed to be both. It's unethical. He's working for the gas company, and then he's supposedly representing the people."

Denton, who parted ways with Winner when they ended their law partnership in 1994, says just as campaign contributions have to be disclosed, legislators who are also lawyers should be required to disclose their clients.

"If you represent a company doing one thing, and they're giving you contributions for your campaign, if it's disclosed and the people know, well that might have some impact - you can say it doesn't, it might, it might not - but at least everybody knows that it's there."

A bill passed earlier this year would have required lawmakers to reveal additional information on extraneous income and business transactions, but it was vetoed by Gov. Paterson.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY