Divide and conquer is the lobbyist's favorite activity:
At least three members of the 14-member board met privately with representatives of energy giant Halliburton and other companies that sell the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, according to interviews conducted by The Associated Press.
The commission initially proposed rules last year to require some limited disclosure of the chemicals. That proposal was pulled from board's May 2013 agenda at the last minute by commission chairman Jim Womack, who said he didn't feel the rules were ready. In an interview with AP, he acknowledged that before deciding to delay the vote, he spoke with a senior Halliburton executive. "They indicated to me in a phone conversation that there may be other options than what was written in that rule," Womack said.
It's called Ex Parte communications, where entities trying to influence a decision-making body meet with only part of said body, in an effort to sway that person's opinion in the absence of prying eyes and ears. And since they're not conducting this in a formal Commission setting, those pesky public records laws don't come into play, either. It also confirms that Jim Womack's ego is a lot bigger than his ethical foundation, another aspect lobbyists thrive on:
Womack also meet twice at restaurants in his hometown of Sanford with Bo Heath, a Raleigh-based lobbyist with the firm McGuireWoods Consulting. Records show Heath represents Halliburton and Koch Industries, which has extensive holdings in natural gas drilling and pipelines.
"He wanted to come and talk about chemical disclosure," Womack said. "Both times, I picked up the tab."
He thinks picking up the tab exonerates him, but that simply proves he knew he was skating on thin ethical ice and might have to do future damage control. If the MEC rules don't prohibit ex parte communications, they should be revised to do so.