Congressman David Valadao (R-California) is an unabashed foe of high-speed rail in his home state. Six months after taking his seat at the beginning of 2013, he introduced legislation which would have effectively stalled completing segments of the project near his hometown of Hanford in the San Joaquin Valley.
One month later, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed an ethics complaint against him because the rail route he was fighting skirted hundreds of acres owned by his family’s dairy farm. He is the managing partner of Valadao Dairy.
Valadao, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, offered an amendment to the sprawling federal budget appropriations bill but, according to the complaint, failed to mention to his colleagues what could easily be construed as a conflict of interest.
The complaint argued that Valadao most recently failed to tell his colleagues about his financial stake when arguing against the project before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. House rules allow members to vote on issues where they may have a financial interest, but frown upon lawmakers sponsoring, advocating or participating in committee hearings about them.
Valadao’s amendment would have forced the federal Surface Transportation Board to approve a completed rail network plan as opposed to individual segments on a case-by-case basis. California is in no position to offer such a completed plan. The project, heavily favored by the governor, is facing challenges at the state and local level that practically have it on life-support. A delay like this would almost certainly kill it.
Its death would benefit Valadao and his family, which own numerous pieces of property in and around Hanford. Although the state is now actively considering a second Hanford route that would have less impact on the dairy, it would still be problematic for the family.
The Fresno Bee identified three parcels owned by a partnership which includes the congressman that would be directly affected by one of the routes. The land is valued at around $1.8 million. The partnership owns six parcels within a mile of one or both lines, valued at $1.38 million, and family members own four parcels within a mile worth $6.2 million.
“It seems Rep. Valadao is no more familiar with House ethics rules now than he was six months ago when he first violated them,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW. “As he continues to flout his obligation to inform his colleagues of his financial conflict of interest, it is all the more urgent that the Office of Congressional Ethics conduct a full investigation.”