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Graves’ Friend Gets a Soapbox

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the ranking member on the Small Business Committee, invited an old friend who is also a business partner of Graves’ wife to testify at a hearing last week.

It was the second time that Graves had invited his friend and neighbor Brooks Hurst to testify before a Congressional hearing on renewable fuels, and the second time Graves has declined to mention that his wife and Hurst are investors together in renewable fuels plants in Missouri.

Graves’ office declined to answer questions about the hearing, referring a reporter to the Small Business Committee.

Angela Landers, spokeswoman for the committee Republicans, said that Graves’ connections to Hurst are reported on his financial disclosures, and that since the committee has no jurisdiction over renewable fuels legislation, Hurst gained no benefit from his appearance. It is common, Landers said, for Members to invite knowledgeable constituents to testify at hearings.

After a Roll Call story in 2007 about Hurst testifying at a hearing Graves organized in 2004, the Congressman told the Kansas City Star that he “probably should have— disclosed that his family was involved in business deals with Hurst at the time of that hearing.

But when Hurst appeared before Graves again on Wednesday, neither man mentioned their financial relationship.

At Wednesday’s Small Business Committee hearing on “The State of the Renewable Fuels Industry in the Current Economy,— Graves introduced Hurst as a farmer from northwest Missouri and added that Hurst’s family “is very active in biodiesel and ethanol production.—

Hurst concurred with Graves’ description of him, and he added, “I’m also a member and investor in a small ethanol plant in the town of Craig,— Mo.

The only ethanol plant in Craig is the Golden Triangle Energy Cooperative. Graves’ financial disclosure forms indicate that his wife’s investment in Golden Triangle produced $15,001 to $50,000 in income in 2006 and $5,000 to $15,000 in 2007. That investment was originally listed on Graves’ disclosure forms as being a joint asset that he shared with his wife.

After Roll Call’s 2007 story, Graves amended his disclosures to indicate that it had always been his wife’s investment alone.

Hurst told Roll Call in 2007 that in 2005 he also recruited “the Graves family— to become original investors with him in a biodiesel plant in Mexico, Mo. In 2007, that investment earned Lesley Graves $1,000 to $2,500 in income, according to Graves’ disclosure forms.

The disclosure forms provide no information about Hurst.

In his written testimony to the committee, Hurst urged Congress to extend an existing tax credit for blending fuel with biodiesel and supported implementation of a national renewable-fuels standard.

Hurst mentioned that extension of the blending credit would help “one of the biodiesel plants I am involved in,— because the lack of certainty about the future of that credit is making it “difficult to book business forward.—

He did not specify whether he was talking about the biodiesel plant in which the Graves family is invested.

Beyond their financial ties, Graves and Hurst are also flying buddies.

According to Federal Aviation Administration records, the two men jointly own four airplanes, though during his bruising re-election campaign, Graves produced photographs indicating that the planes are merely junked pieces suitable for salvage.

Hurst and Graves both have space at the tiny airport in Tarkio, Mo., which is built on land that was provided by the Graves family. The two men have piloted a stunt airplane owned by Herzog Contracting Corp., a major supporter of Graves’ campaigns, and photos of the airplane show that Hurst’s and Graves’ names are written on it.

Landers said there was no need for Graves to discuss his relationship with Hurst at the hearing because “Mrs. Lesley Graves is one of over 500 investors in a business Mr. Hurst also invests in. Discussing financial disclosures of members of the Small Business Committee is not part of the regular committee process during hearings.—

“Mr. Hurst and Congressman Graves have been friends for many years that date before Mr. Graves was even elected to office,— Landers wrote in an e-mail to Roll Call. “In no way could Mr. Hurst benefit from testifying before the House Small Business Committee. The House Small Business Committee has no legislative jurisdiction over energy issues and neither Mr. Hurst nor any witness testifying before our committee would be able to change federal policies regarding energy through testimony provided in an oversight hearing to the Committee on Small Business.—

Asked whether Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) knew about Hurst’s relationship with Graves, a Democratic committee spokesperson said: “The Chairwoman defers to the minority in the selection of their witnesses. The witness was certainly qualified to testify on the topic.—

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