A co-chairman of the legislative committee that deals with energy issues is asking the state ethics panel whether his participation in upcoming votes, and his wife’s representation of wind power companies, present a conflict of interest.

Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, is asking for an advisory opinion from the Commission on Government Ethics and Election Practices. The panel is scheduled to review the request at 9 a.m. Thursday in Augusta.

The request follows anonymous and unproven charges from wind power opponents on the Internet of a conspiracy between state government and industry to deploy thousands of turbines across rural Maine.

It comes as tensions grow between state policymakers who encourage renewable power and energy independence, and residents upset over the impacts of large-scale wind development.

Hinck is married to Juliet Browne, who represents several wind power developers at the Verrill Dana law firm in Portland. Internet posters have questioned whether Hinck should vote on laws that might benefit his wife or her clients.

Hinck and Browne rebutted the conflict allegations in an article last month in the Maine Sunday Telegram. Hinck said Monday that he contacted the ethics panel because he wanted a clear, public clarification.

”I don’t want to bullheadedly rely on my own understanding of the ethics rules,” he said.

In his request to the commission, Hinck identified seven bills in the current session that ”may give rise to some financial impact” on clients that Browne has represented. Two of the bills deal directly with wind power.

”I would like to know,” Hinck wrote the panel, ”if there are any conflicts of interest presented by my joining in the shaping of the legislation or voting on it, either in committee or on the floor of the House.”

In a summary for the commissioners, executive director Jonathan Wayne outlined some of the case law relating to conflict of interest in Maine. In general, lawmakers may vote on a bill unless it results in a ”unique and distinct benefit” to the legislator or immediate family members.

Some people may feel this standard is too narrow, Wayne wrote, but it remains the rule. Based on quick analysis, he added, it seems unlikely that Hinck’s involvement in bills he cited this session will present a conflict of interest.

”The primary responsibility for avoiding a conflict rests with Rep. Hinck,” Wayne said.

Wayne said Monday that if the commissioners decide to issue a written opinion, he will draft the language for review before a ruling is released. The process could take up to a week.

Thursday’s proceedings will be posted as an audio file on the commission’s Web site: www.maine.gov/ethics.

 

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

[email protected]