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Va. Rep. Garrett fights back against conflict of interest charges

Lynchburg Representative T. Scott Garrett of the Virginia General Assembly was included in a list of Virginia state legislators found to have large investments in publicly-traded companies that lobby in the General Assembly.

Garrett, a physician by career, has more than $250,000 of stock invested in IBM and Mylan Laboratories, and more than $50,000 of stock invested in GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Wal-Mart. All five companies have multiple lobbyists registered in the state of Virginia, some of which lobby in the General Assembly.

The list of investments was released by the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), a nonpartisan organization that tracks money and politicians in Virginia. Under the Virginia Conflict of Interests Act, state legislators are required to disclose all economic interests and investments.

“We want to make it easier for the public to look at these statements of economic interests and aggregate the data in a number of ways,” David Poole, the director of VPAP said. “That’s a big part of our mission.”

Garrett said although he has invested heavily in the stock market, he has not let his investments shape how he votes. He further stated he has never been lobbied by IBM, one of the companies in which Garrett owns more than $250,000 worth of stock.

“I’ve been in Richmond for 7 years, and I’ve never met a lobbyist from IBM,” Garrett said. “To my knowledge, they do not lobby in Richmond. They’re more on a federal level.”

According to Secretary of the Commonwealth’s government database, there are three lobbyists retained by IBM who are registered in Virginia and lobby in the General Assembly. The VPAP lobbyist database also reveals there are ten other lobbyists retained by companies that Garrett has stock ownership in.

Concerning his investments, Garrett said most of the stock he owns are considered blue chips – stock in large, multi-billion dollar companies. His investments in the companies, he said, have very little influence into the decisions the companies make, and do not make him personally interested in the company.

“You can own a lot of stock in a publicly traded company, and take for example IBM, it’s net asset value is something like $165 billion,” Garrett said. “So even if you own $10,000 or $100,000 or even a million dollars of IBM stock, you can’t curb that much change in what IBM is going to do at all.”

In the Virginia General Assembly, legislators abide by House Rule 69, Senate Rule 36, which states it is up to the legislator to decide if he or she has personal interests with an issue before voting. Legislators use their discretion in deciding whether or not to abstain from voting on a particular issue, and whether or not there is a conflict of interest.

The issue of personal interests was recently brought up in the General Assembly by House Minority Leader David Toscano. On April 13, Toscano urged legislators in an e-mail to abstain from voting if they have any personal interests in a company or industry involved in a voting issue.

“Abstention makes sense if the vote would affect you in a way substantially different from the general public or persons in a generally recognized class or group,” Toscano wrote.

In the e-mail, Toscano wrote a legislator should abstain from voting on an issue that involves a company if he or she owns more than 3 percent of said company, makes more than $5,000 a year from ownership of said company, or receives compensation or benefits that exceed $5,000 from said company.

Garrett said his decision to abstain on any given vote is made on an individual case-by-case basis. He said he would abstain if he thought he would benefit personally in any way from voting on any given issue.

Out of the 140 part-time, citizen legislators of the General Assembly, 44 were found to have owned at least $5,000 worth of stock in companies that lobby the General Assembly. Garrett said it is very common for legislators in the General Assembly to have stock in companies that operate in Virginia.

“Owning stock in a publicly traded company is something lots of folks do,” Garrett said. “Whether they do it through a retirement plan, whether they own stock outright that they’ve purchased, or whether it’s just in mutual funds that they own, we all own invest in American companies.”