PORTLAND, Maine — Independent Senate candidate Angus King completed the transfer of his stake in a wind energy company he co-founded to his business partner and said Monday he would go one step further to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest by placing his investments in a blind trust.
King declined Monday to put a value on his stake in Independence Wind, which was formally transferred Sunday night to his business partner, Rob Gardiner, former president of Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
Founded in 2007, Independence Wind partnered on a 22-turbine, 50-megawatt wind power project in Roxbury, which received a federal loan guarantee. King said it’s important to avoid any potential appearance of impropriety.
King, a self-made millionaire, also told The Associated Press that he would put his investments in a blind trust if he’s elected to the Senate, just like he did after he was elected governor in 1994. The trust would shield King from information about the identity of investments, which would be managed by trustees.
Chris O’Neil of Friends of Maine’s Mountains, which contends wind turbines are ruining the state’s scenery while failing to deliver on promises of affordable green energy, says King was a convincing pitchman for wind power.
“Given the likelihood that a Senator Angus King will be asked to vote on huge appropriations measures that would give cash grants to wind developers, he avoids a level of firsthand conflict by getting out now,” O’Neil said, noting that another Independence Wind project is pending in western Maine.
King, who served for two terms as governor, is one of at least 12 candidates vying for the U.S. Senate seat that’s being vacated by Republican Olympia Snowe, who opted against seeking a fourth term.
Six Republicans and four Democrats have filed petitions to face off in Maine’s June primaries. At least one other independent, tea party candidate Andrew Ian Dodge, intends to run.
King, a former Democrat, reiterated Monday that contrary to claims by Republicans in Washington, there have been no backroom deals for him to caucus with one party or the other if elected. He has said he could caucus with one party or the other, depending on the issue, or none at all.
He said he wants to work in the middle to bridge the division between Republicans and Democrats to get things done.
“My whole point is to come in from the outside and shake things up. If I say I’m going to shake things up but if that doesn’t work then I’ll join the Red Sox or the Yankees, then it defeats the whole point of what I’m trying to do,” he said.
Widely considered to be the front-runner, King said he has been busy setting up a fundraising committee, organizing petition gatherers, raising money, creating a website and finding office space in Brunswick. Independents must submit 4,000 signatures by June 1 to appear on the November ballot.
King spent about $1 million of his money on a campaign that he narrowly won when he first ran for governor as an independent. He said he hopes to avoid having to spend his own money this time because he’s now widely known and should be able to tap into a larger base of political donors.
King became a millionaire in 1994 when he sold his energy consulting business, Northeastern Energy Management Inc. King made $8 million after paying back bank loans, capital gains taxes and other costs.
He declined to discuss on Monday how much of that money he still has, but he joked that he hadn’t yet managed to spend all of the proceeds.
Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs at Colby College, said it’s difficult for wealthy individuals to avoid conflicts of interest because their investment portfolios often include large companies that benefit from government contracts, grants or other subsidies.
By taking early steps to avoid potential conflicts of interest, King is showing he’s serious about his Senate candidacy, Maisel said.