“Nearly half of Pilot’s interests are foreign owned,” McWherter said, “and at least one of those foreign companies is doing business with Iran, a rogue nation that is developing nuclear weapons and poses a threat to our national security.”
Pressed on whether he actually was accusing Haslam and Pilot of helping fund Iran’s nuclear ambitions, McWherter claimed he merely was demanding answers from his opponent because he's refused to disclose his federal income tax returns (as if Haslam's returns would show the line item "unspecified sum for blowing up the world").
“I think that is up to Bill Haslam to explain that situation,” McWherter said.
It was a convenient way for McWherter to cast aspersions at Haslam, then dodge responsibility for backing up his claims.
Update: Haslam's campaign responds by pointing out that the parent company of Anheuser-Busch, whose beer McWherter distributes, does business with closer-to-home enemies in Cuba and Venezuela. Not surprisingly, McWherter claims that's different: He's merely a customer of Budweiser so his hands are clean, while the Haslams are partners with their evil foreign company. The Haslam statement:
"Mike's desperate attack failed once so he's back to try it again. His father had it right when he recognized the value of this homegrown Tennessee company, and we continue to be surprised by Mike's persistent anti-business tone. This is silly and insulting to the voters of Tennessee, and Bill Haslam will continue to be out on the trail talking to voters about what matters: creating jobs, managing the budget and strengthening education."
Here’s McWherter’s statement to reporters and excerpts from the Q&A that followed. McWherter’s flack cut off questions before too many were asked.
Throughout the course of this campaign, there’s been a lot of discussion about the issue of disclosure. I think it’s imperative that the voters of Tennessee know who they are electing and know who their governor is doing business with. Being open and transparent about your personal investments and taking the necessary steps to avoid any possible conflict of interest is part of the pact that you make with the voters of Tennessee when you ask for their trust.
During the course of this primary and now in the general election, Bill Haslam has been asked on numerous occasions to disclose his interest in Pilot Oil. He continues to refuse, denying voters the information they need to cast an informed ballot. This is not a question about how much money he makes.
Everyone knows oil men are extremely wealthy, and the Haslam family are extremely wealthy. This is about who Bill Haslam owes and the type of people he surrounds himself with in business. This is about an open and honest discussion with the voters of Tennessee. This is about the character of a man who seeks our state’s highest office. Apparently, Bill Haslam doesn’t think Tennesseans deserve the right to know who he really is and believe that a multimillion-dollar ad campaign can cover up his tangled web of questionable business dealings.
When pressed on the issue of disclosure at a press association meeting in February, Bill Haslam said ‘every bit of Pilot is owned by the Haslam family.’ This is a carefully crafted and deceiving statement aimed at misleading the public into believing that Pilot is a small family-owned Tennessee-based chain of truck stops. To put it simply, that is not true. Pilot might have a building in Knoxville but the company is actually incorporated at a P.O. box in Delaware.
If the Haslams are so proud of their Tennessee roots, why would they choose to reincorporate their business in Delaware, a tax haven favored by businesses for its flexible corporate tax code and lack of taxes on corporate income? Is the Tennessee tax code so stringent for the Haslams taste or are they trying to avoid the taxes that everyday small business owners pay every day in Tennessee?
A more disturbing issue is the fact that Bill Haslam claims that Pilot is wholly owned by the Haslam family. He is playing a deceitful corporate shell game and using semantics to misinform the general public. In 2008, Pilot Corp. sold half of Pilot Travel Centers to CVC Capital Partners, which is based out of the small country of Luxembourg in Europe, another area known as a tax shelter for many foreign companies.
Pilot Travel Centers, which is the public face and the core of the company’s consumer business throughout this state, formed an equal governance partnership with CVC Capital, selling 47 ½ percent interest to this foreign investment company. Now this is new information to the vast number of voters in Tennessee who do not keep up with the the transactions on a day-to-day basis of the truck stop industry. Many Tennesseans might not know that Pilot recently acquired Flying J travel centers, which gives the Haslams and CVC majority control over America’s diesel fuel market. And this is a company that settled price-gouging lawsuits in five separate states following Hurricane Ike and numerous lawsuits filed by state attorney generals.
What’s more worrying to me now is new information that’s surfaced regarding the Haslam business partner, CVC Capital. CVC Capital is invested in numerous companies around the world, several of which are involved in oil, gas and energy sectors. CVC has a major ownership stake in companies that are doing business with countries like Iran, Libya and others. One example is the Germany company Evonik, which is actively involved in the development of chemicals and energy sources, including nuclear power. And they have offices in Tehran.
Nearly half of Pilot’s interests are foreign owned, and at least one of those foreign companies is doing business with Iran, a rogue nation that is developing nuclear weapons and poses a threat to our national security.
Does Bill Haslam just expect the people of Tennessee to just trust him when he says his business dealings pose no conflict of interest as governor? I think that’s ridiculous. The people of Tennessee have enough to worry about these days. They’ve got a lot on their plates. And they deserve to have a governor who is open and honest with them. They need to know their interests come first. Today, I’m calling on Bill Haslam to answer these simple questions.
If Pilot is not dodging Tennessee taxes and taking advantage of Delaware’s lax corporate tax code, then why is Pilot not incorporated in Tennessee? Does CVC Capital own 47 ½ percent of Pilot Travel Centers? And explain the details of that equal governance partnership with the Luxembourg-based investment firm? And three, why is Pilot comfortable forming an equal partnership with a foreign investment group that has direct ties in Iran?
I think the people deserve to know the answers to these and many more questions, and I believe, as they begin to ask these questions, we’ll find out the true nature of their investment situation.
Q: What’s the significance of having the investment in Iran?
McWherter: I really believe this is more an issue of disclosure. This is a sister corporation inside of a capital holding group that’s doing business in Iran at the same time that ownership here in the United States runs Pilot Travel Centers. Literally, 50 cents of every dollar spent at the Pilot Travel Center is going back into this capital partnership in Luxembourg, which in turn is financing companies that are doing business in these countries that really do not have our national interest at stake.
Q: The suggestion is that perhaps Tennessee dollars are ultimately helping Iran … Is that a possibility or a concern?
McWherter: I think that’s the question that Bill Haslam needs to be answering. Fifty cents of every dollar spent at a Pilot Travel Center goes back to CVC Capital Partners and they are investors in this company that is helping develop these kind of industries in these nations. And I think the voters of Tennessee need to know that.
Q: If the Haslams were to do the same exercise, how do know that they wouldn’t some connection between your investements and interenational businesses?
McWherter: I’ll admit to you that I do own some Exxon stock. But here is my [income tax] return right here. I have revealed that to all the major newspapers who have requested information. They’ve got it. They can see everything that I’ve ever been invested in. That’s the importance of disclosure is to make sure that the people of Tennessee understand if you have any conflicts of interest. He won’t do that. That is frankly insulting to the voters of Tennessee not to be willing to share that information and, at the same time, ask you to trust them with the highest elected office in the state of Tennessee.
Q: I want to make sure I understand kind of what you’re getting at here. I think what you’re saying is that because of this connection that Pilot has with CVC that when people buy, say, gasoline at a Pilot truck stop and half the profits will go CVC and then they’ll go on to some company that’s invested in Iran and maybe somehow be helping them develop nuclear weapons or something like that. Is that the gist of it?
McWherter: All I know is that CVC owns literally half of the Pilot Travel Centers. I assume they get 50 percent of those profits or 47 ½ percent. I know they’ve got an equal governance clause because I’ve read that. And I know these companies are invested in these other companies that are doing a lot of business in the Middle East, including Iran. Now, because he won’t disclose, there’s not a whole lot of additional information I can provide you in that regard. I think that is up to Bill Haslam to explain that situation.
Q: Would his disclosure have information about a business partner’s investments? I don’t know if you’ve got any partners in your beer distributorship. Do you and have you disclosed those and do we know what ties those people have?
McWherter: You know, when I tell you I’m a family-owned operation, I’m telling you the truth. It would be Ned and my children. So yes, those are who are invested in my operation. I understand your point, but the bottom line here is Bill Haslam does not want to reveal these connections, and he’s hiding something, and nobody knows what it is. But before you’re going to trust him with the highest office in Tennessee, I think the voters have the right to know.
Q: At this point, you have idea whether this company is doing any nuclear work in Iran, do you? Since you’re the one who’s raising this, isn’t the burden on you to establish that as opposed to just raising this thing?
McWherter: You have a packet of information that’s been handed out to you about Evonik and CVC. You’ll have to look at that. It’s not real hard to connect those dots.
Q: I see that. But do you know that they’re doing nuclear work in Iran? Does this detail that or are you just raising that by innuendo?
McWherter: I’m saying they do work in the nuclear power industries, and I believe you’ll see a phrase in there in which they refer to the country of Iran. But have I been to Tehran? No. Have I actually seen somebody with their uniform on over there? I have not seen that. No.