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Sen. Joe Manchin walks in the Capitol hallway

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) walks outside of the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill on December 9, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Filings Reveal Manchin's Blind Trust Can't Explain Away 'Blatant Conflict of Interest'

"What Manchin is doing is not illegal. The conflict of interest code for Congress is just way too weak."

Jake Johnson

The blind trust that Sen. Joe Manchin frequently cites to deflect criticism of potential conflicts of interest stemming from his family's lucrative West Virginia coal empire is—according to newly reported financial documents—"much too small" to cover his total earnings from the dirty energy business, raising further questions about the right-wing Democrat's possible financial stake in preventing climate action.

"Manchin is not only very wealthy, but most of his assets and wealth are invested in a single industry, coal."

The Washington Post reported Monday that Manchin's (D-W.Va.) latest financial disclosure filing "says that the West Virginia family coal business that he helped found and run, Enersystems, paid him $492,000 in interest, dividends, and other income in 2020, and that his share of the firm is worth between $1 million and $5 million."

"He signed a sworn statement saying he is aware of these earnings, underscoring that he is not blind to them," the Post noted. "By contrast, Manchin set up a blind trust with $350,000 in cash in 2012. In his latest financial disclosure report, the senator reported that the Joseph Manchin III Qualified Blind Trust earned no more than $15,000 last year and is worth between $500,000 and $1 million. By design, it is not possible to know precisely what's in the blind trust. But the financial disclosure records show that it doesn't include all of Manchin’s income from Enersystems."

Given the outsized role he continues to play in shaping—and dramatically paring back—the suite of climate measures in Democrats' Build Back Better Act, Manchin has recently faced questions about his deep connections to the industry most responsible for climate chaos.

In September, Bloomberg's Ari Natter pressed the West Virginia senator on the dividend income he continues to receive from Enersystems, which Manchin founded in 1988 and later handed over to his son. Enersystems has paid Manchin $5 million over the past decade, according to the senator's financial disclosure filings.

"You got a problem?" Manchin asked Natter. When the journalist continued to press for answers, Manchin responded, "You'd do best to change the subject."

Craig Holman, an ethics expert at Public Citizen, told the Post on Monday that Manchin raking in substantial profits from the coal industry while exerting major influence over climate policy—he is currently the chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources—is "a very blatant conflict of interest."

"Manchin is not only very wealthy, but most of his assets and wealth are invested in a single industry, coal," Holman observed. "What Manchin is doing is not illegal. The conflict of interest code for Congress is just way too weak."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he hopes to hold a vote on the Build Back Better Act before Christmas, but Manchin's refusal to support the legislation in its current, badly weakened form has cast serious doubt on that timeline.

Manchin—who has received more than $1.5 million in campaign donations from corporate interests trying to kill the Build Back Better Act—has already succeeded in stripping from the bill major climate measures such as the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), a popular proposal that was widely viewed as the most ambitious climate-related piece of the Build Back Better Act. The West Virginia senator has also raised questions about the bill's proposed fee on methane pollution.

According to Punchbowl News, Manchin is set to speak with President Joe Biden about the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act on Monday.

"Manchin has gotten almost everything he's asked for so far," the outlet noted. "Democrats will drop the paid family leave provision he opposed, as well as climate-change language. And the House passed the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill he helped draft."

In a blog post on Monday, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich argued that "Joe Manchin illustrates that the real division in American politics is no longer left versus right, conservative versus liberal, even Democrat versus Republican."

"The real division," he wrote, "is democracy versus the moneyed interests."

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