Dunlea Says DiNapoli Needs To Answer ?S Re Staff Joining Fossil Fuel Company
Dunlea Calls for DiNapoli to Disclose Information Related to Hiring of Top Investment Staff by Fossil Fuel Company
Mark Dunlea, the Green Party candidate for State Comptroller, called today for State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to disclose information about the recent appointment of Vickie Fuller, until recently the Chief Investment Officer for his office, to the Board of Directors of The Williams Companies, a natural gas pipeline firm.
Under Ms. Fuller, the State Comptroller’s office has steadfastly opposed calls by climate activists, state lawmakers, and the Governor to divest from fossil fuels. While the groups have said that the state should not seek to profit from companies that are destroying the planet by driving climate change, they also point out that investing in fossil fuels is very risky given that the world has agreed to end the use of fossil fuels.
“Moving from the state comptroller’s office to a fossil fuel company immediately after leaving your job certainly raise questions about potential conflict of interests. The Comptroller gives guidance to municipal officials about ethics and should serve as a model for everyone else,” noted Dunlea, who wrote a Town Ethics Law when he was a member of the Poestenkill Town Board.
The state pension fund has an estimated $160 million invested in Williams. The state has more than $4.3 billion invested in fracked-gas companies, many of which Williams does business with.
State ethics rules require officials to avoid conflicts of interest. Dunlea questioned whether that standard was met in this situation.
Among the questions Dunlea said the Comptroller office needs to answer:
– when did Ms. Fuller notify the Comptroller that she was in negotiations to take a position with a fossil fuel company;
– what actions if any did the Comptroller’s office take once they became aware of such negotiations to prevent any potential conflict of interest;
– was an advisory opinion sought from JCOPE or the Comptroller’s counsel about Ms. Fuller taking such a position with a company that the state had investments in of over $100 million dollars (if so, the opinion should be release);
– what ethics guidelines has the State Comptroller put in place to protect against employees doing business with companies that have business with the Comptroller’s office, including a time restriction on entering into a business relationship with such companies after leaving the employ of the Comptroller.
Dunlea said that the Comptroller’s office should also detail any lobbying efforts by the fossil fuel industry in recent years, including related to divestment.
DiNapoli was appointed by the State Legislature to replace Alan Hevesi. Following an investigation by then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Hevesi later pleaded guilty to trading access to New York’s $124 billion public employee pension fund for $1 million in benefits — including campaign contributions and luxury trips to Israel and Italy. In exchange for the funds, Hevesi approved a $250 million pension fund investment in Markstone Capital, the investment fund that had been run by California money manager Elliot Broidy who also pleaded guilty.
The State Comptroller’s office has long been viewed as having the most potential for abuse of the pay-to-play culture that dominates Albany. Partially in response four years ago lawmakers approved a pilot campaign finance program for the State Comptroller race, though DiNapoli decided not to participate.
Williams describes itself as “a premier provider of large-scale infrastructure connecting U.S. natural gas and natural gas products.” Williams is proposing to lay a new pipeline, called the Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline, which would carry fracked natural gas (methane) from Pennsylvania across the Lower Bay of New York’s harbor. The pipeline is strongly opposed by New York climate activists. Williams, also a part owner of the Constitution pipeline, was also one of the biggest spenders on lobbying the state legislature on fossil fuel infrastructure and fracking.