A “citizen volunteer” no longer, Bray Cary is now both a paid employee of Gov. Jim Justice and a paid board member of EQT Corp., a publicly traded natural gas driller.
Cary is now technically a temporary employee for Justice, earning $8.75 an hour for 15 hours per week, according to Brian Abraham, Justice’s general counsel. However, Abraham said, Cary is, effectively, a regular full-time employee.
While the wage is comparatively low for the West Virginia media mogul who oversaw NASCAR’s network television surge in the late 1990s, it marks a step forward for the EQT executive into his new role in state government.
His specific job duties for Justice are unclear, but Cary seems to wield influence in a number of policy arenas. He was spotted in meetings with legislative leadership during the teacher strike. He also sat in on a closed-door meeting this week with lobbyists and industry stakeholders to discuss possible changes to West Virginia’s new sports betting law. Additionally, he oversees interviews and helps coordinate Justice’s media appearances.
Abraham said the governor authorized the change on May 3. Abraham said Justice asked him and Cary to “collaborate with the chief of staff to help him reach out to some of the agencies to find out how we can better interact, as the Governor’s Office, with our agencies.”
Complicating the Cary job matter is the fact that EQT filed a lawsuit in April against Austin Caperton, a Justice appointee, in his official capacity as secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
EQT paid Cary more than $325,000 in 2016, in cash and shares, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He directly owns more than 28,000 shares in the company and indirectly owns another 14,377.
The lawsuit could pose a tricky conflict for Cary, depending on what material, nonpublic information he is privy to in the Governor’s Office and at EQT, and if, how or when such information is shared.
Abraham, however, said Cary has had no contact with natural gas issues pertinent to the state.
“He has never been involved in anything regarding EQT,” Abraham said. “Discussions of legislation, anything having to do with the natural gas industry, he has not had any conversations with anybody within this office.”
Cary did not return phone calls or emails regarding this report.
During a series of town hall meetings in the midst of the statewide teacher strike earlier this year, Justice floated the idea of convening a special session of the Legislature to consider a joint development measure. Joint development, also referred to as lease integration, allows companies to combine older leases for horizontal drilling activity, even if the leases were signed before horizontal drilling technology was developed. It is much sought after by the natural gas industry.
Justice quickly walked those proposals back, though.
When asked about the totality of the co-tenancy bill that passed this year, the flat-rate bill and ensuing lawsuit, and Justice’s proposed special session and eventual walk-back, Abraham said Cary had nothing to do with any of those.
“I have personally never discussed [it], and I am with him probably daily,” he said. “He has never discussed that with me, I have never observed him discussing a salary, a ‘What could we do?’ or anything in front of the governor. I have never seen him bring it up in front of any of our legislative people ... he just doesn’t discuss it.”
After the Charleston Gazette-Mail submitted public records requests to state agencies regarding Cary, he entered into a confidentiality agreement with Mike Hall, Justice’s chief of staff, on Nov. 28.
While he is on the payroll as a temporary employee, Cary’s application for an access card for the Capitol marks him as a permanent employee.
Cary does not need to file a financial disclosure with the state Ethics Commission in his paid position.
Justice signed a bill the Legislature passed this year that would expand the Ethics Act to include unpaid volunteers who work in an advisory capacity to elected officials. However, commissioners on the state Ethics Commission voiced complaints about the new law at their April meeting, citing a lack of clarity.
Natalie Cox, corporate director of communications for EQT, did not respond to an inquiry for this report. However, in a statement she released in December, Cox said Cary’s volunteer work for the state did not pose any conflict of interest.
“We are aware that Mr. Cary has volunteered his time to support the state of West Virginia by serving, in an unpaid capacity, as an informal advisor to Governor Justice. This volunteer work for the state does not conflict with Mr. Cary’s duties as a member of EQT’s board of directors. We applaud him for volunteering his valuable time to help move West Virginia forward.”