On May 12, 2015 Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway filed a lawsuit against Marathon Petroleum Company alleging Marathon has engaged in anti-competitive practices that cause higher gasoline prices for Kentucky consumers. In making the announcement Conway said he has tried over and over to get the Federal Trade Commission or U.S. Department of Justice interested in the case, but they have declined to join efforts.
This isn’t the first time a Kentucky Attorney General has gone after Marathon over gasoline prices in the state. On May 13, 2011, AG Conway charged Marathon violated Kentucky’s price-gouging law after floods struck Western Kentucky. On May 10, 2007, then-AG Greg Stumbo filed suit against Marathon alleging price gouging after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast in late 2005.
Notice a pattern? Every four years during the second week in May Kentucky Attorneys General take on Marathon over gasoline prices.
What else happens every four years in May in Kentucky? Primary elections for state offices. In 2007 Stumbo was a candidate for Lt. Governor in the Democratic Primary held on May 22nd. In 2011 Conway was a candidate for re-election as AG in the Democratic Primary held on May 17th. This year Conway was a candidate for the Governor’s office in the Democratic Primary held on May 19th.
Nobody in Kentucky pays attention to state elections until after the Kentucky Derby, and that gives candidates only two weeks or so before the primary to make a splash. What better way to show voters you are on their side than an opportunistic attack on an oil company?
I conclude that the primary reason for quadrennial gasoline price-gouging charges against Marathon in Kentucky is the state’s Democratic Primary.
- The most recent lawsuit is available from the AG’s office.
- According to Marathon’s annual report for 2014, as of the end of that year the 2007 and 2011 cases remained unresolved.
- Earlier KP commentary on Kentucky price gouging cases here and here and here.