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New Commerce Secretary Looks to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

woody_thrasher.jpg

West Virginia's new commerce secretary says he is trying to avoid conflicts of interest as he assumes his new role, but he isn't willing to give up ownership in one of the largest engineering firms in the state.

Woody Thrasher is an owner of Thrasher Group, which according to state data, has received nearly $15 million from government contracts since 1995.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports Thrasher will go before the West Virginia Ethics Commission on Thursday to request what he believes to be a "blind trust." He says he will remove himself from the day-to-day operations of Thrasher Group and his other businesses, but will keep ownership.

The newspaper reports it's unclear whether Thrasher's proposal meets the definition of a qualified blind trust under state law.

"Handing over day-to-day operations of a company that is directly affected by the official's role or decision making isn't effective," said Brendan Fischer, an associate counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, a group focused on government transparency. "If a public official maintains a financial stake in a company, the potential for a conflict remains."

Thrasher isn't required to set up a blind trust, but without one he will have to report his ownership stake in the businesses on his annual financial disclosure reports.

Thrasher said he wants to avoid ethical conflicts or even the public perception of a conflict, but says the suggestion that he sell off businesses is unfair.

"If someone said you have to sell everything you own to work in this position, I would say, 'No, thank you,'" he said. "I am not getting rid of my companies that I have worked my whole life to create."


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