Two things jump out at me from this story.
State Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Berlin, has removed his name from a bill that would increase the amount of ethanol and other renewable fuels distributed throughout the state because of a perceived conflict of interest.
Olsen came under fire shortly after the bill was introduced in early January because he has family ties to the ethanol industry and is a part owner of a grain mill that sells corn for ethanol production. Olsen was a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 380, which would require vehicle fuel distributors to make renewable fuels 25 percent of their total sales volume by 2025.
On Wednesday, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy indicating Olsen’s support of the bill would not violate conflict of interest statutes even though Olsen has a one-third ownership stake in Olsen’s Mill, a family business that sells corn to Olsen’s brother’s ethanol plant, Utica Energy LLC.
Still, Olsen said, he removed his name from the bill and will abstain from voting on it.
“In politics, perception is reality,” Olsen said. “The trust of the public is so important to me. I do not want to do anything that will jeopardize that trust.”
First, Olsen owns one-third of a business that will directly benefit from a law that he is proposing and his brother also owns a business that will directly benefit from the proposed law. If that is not a conflict of interest, then the term is meaningless. And the fact that Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy doesn’t think it is just proves how ridiculous that body is likely to be.
Second, if the trust of the public is so important to Olsen, then why did he leave his name on the bill and push for it for a full month and only remove it after the attempt to fast track the bill was derailed? IIRC, Olsen promised to keep out of the ethanol mandate debate last year because of his conflict of interest. Why did he decide to overlook that conflict this time?
I don’t trust Olsen as far as I could throw him.