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Wynn Claims LCV Conflict of Interest

Correction Appended

Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) is charging that the League of Conservation Voters, which is poised to endorse his Democratic primary challenger, has a personal and financial conflict of interest and should refrain from taking sides in the increasingly bitter contest.

Wynn made his concerns known to the LCV in an August letter in which he requested that the organization recuse itself from making an endorsement in the race.

But while the LCV hasn’t formally announced its intentions, the campaign of lawyer and community activist Donna Edwards (D) disclosed in an announcement to supporters late last week that the environmental organization had given Edwards its endorsement.

The LCV’s political and campaign committee, which makes endorsement decisions, is made up of eight of the organization’s 25 members of its board of directors. Edwards herself has been a member of the LCV board since 2005, but she currently is on a leave of absence from her position with the group.

Wynn noted in his August letter to the organization that he was concerned because several LCV board members, including its chairman, as well as three league employees have given Edwards thousands of dollars in personal campaign contributions in 2006 and 2007. He also noted that the LCV Education Fund, an affiliated group, received grant money from the Arca Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that Edwards heads though is currently on leave from.

Tony Massaro, the LCV’s senior vice president for political affairs and public education, dismissed Wynn’s conflict of interest claims on Monday and said the endorsement decision simply came down to “who is better on the environment. The political committee that made our endorsement decisions said the fact is that Donna has a 20-year record of being a champion on environmental issues and that Al Wynn, even though he’s been in Congress for quite a while, has no record of being a champion of environmental issues.”

Massaro said the LCV makes no apologies for having board members who are involved in political campaigns and that a full disclosure of any involvement with a particular campaign is given to the committee that handles endorsement decisions.

“It’s all disclosed so that everybody is aware and that everything is in the open light,” Massaro said. “We are political. People involved give money. That’s part of politics. And we have no problems with that and make no apologies for having a political board that is involved. They make decisions and they have looked at Donna’s record as an activist and Congressman Wynn’s as a Congressman and said Donna is an actual leader and Congressman Wynn is not, so we’re going to give her money.”

The LCV endorsed Edwards, who as a community leader fought to limit the environmental impact of the massive National Harbor project under development in Prince George’s County, in her nearly successful 2006 campaign to knock off Wynn. In a stunning result, Edwards lost by fewer than 3,000 votes in 2006, and Wynn has been working to tout his liberal credentials since the previous cycle’s scare.

Although he voted to authorize the Iraq War in 2002, Wynn has recently become a major critic, going so far as to co-sponsor a measure to impeach Vice President Cheney. Wynn also has made the environment a centerpiece of his appeal to primary voters, hosting several town hall meetings this year on global warming.

Wynn said in his letter that he was concerned about the LCV’s endorsement because the league’s Education Fund had received tens of thousands of dollars in grant money from the Arca Foundation during the time period that Edwards worked as executive director of the organization, which supports liberal causes.

Massaro described the LCV Education Fund as a separate, sister organization of the LCV with its own board of directors that has no role in the endorsement process.

(Edwards, whose campaign did not respond to phone messages and e-mails Monday, is listed as part of the LCV Education Fund’s board on the organization’s Web site.)

Regardless, Massaro said, “the Arca Foundation’s contributions to the LCV education fund predate Donna’s employment by them. That was a long-standing relationship that the board and its previous executive director had established before Donna was hired. So it really had nothing to do with Donna one way or the other.”

But Wynn made it clear in his August letter that if the LCV went by record alone then he felt he should receive their endorsement.

“As you know, in this Congress I was elected Chair of the Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, and based on the [92] rating I received from the League of Conservation Voters during the prior Congress and my strong record on environmental matters, I feel that I deserve to receive an endorsement from the League,” he wrote.

On Monday, Wynn campaign manager Lori Sherwood said the Congressman was disappointed that the LCV moved forward with its endorsement decision despite his objections.

“The Congressman stands by his record,” Sherwood said. “He’s chairman of the Hazardous Material Subcommittee and he’s very proud of his environmental work and record and the things he’s been able to do, including in the past few months he was able to pass a $10 billion program in the energy bill this summer that received accolades from hundreds of groups, including LCV. … To ignore that is shortsighted.”

Correction: Sept. 25, 2007

The article incorrectly reported Rep. Albert Wynn’s (D-Md.) League of Conservation Voters score during the second session of the 109th Congress. It was 92 percent.

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