Most ethical Congress ever? Not so much ...
Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado inserted a provision into the recently passed House climate change bill that would drum up business for "green" banks, such as the one he has invested in and his family and a political donor helped found in San Francisco.
The bill calls on bank regulators to promote green banking and says federal dollars should be used to support energy-efficient home improvements at government-funded housing projects.
Mr. Perlmutter, a two-term Democrat, has two investments in the 3-year-old New Resource Bank, which calls itself the nation's first green bank. Among other environmentally conscious banking products, the bank offers home equity loans for consumers to make their homes more energy efficient, in addition to construction loans for green builders.
A Perlmutter spokeswoman stressed that the bill provisions benefit any bank that offers qualifying products.
"Any bank can use this or take advantage of this, period. So it's equal opportunity," Leslie Oliver said.
"New Resource Bank was not even on the radar screen" when the congressman first introduced his ideas in a bill called the Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods (GREEN) Act last session, she said, adding that four hearings have been held on the bill, which passed the House last year.
New Resource also lists Deana Perlmutter, the congressman's former spouse, and his father, Leonard Perlmutter, among those who have invested "seed capital and effort" to get the venture off the ground, according to the bank's Web site.
Mr. Perlmutter's sponsorship of the GREEN Act given his financial stake in the bank raises ethical questions.
It should raise some ethical questions because whereas his amendment might benefit all of the banks like New Resource, it is directly benefiting the very bank that he, his ex-wife, and his father are investors in. According to the founder of the bank, Peter Liu, they have a small investment in his bank, but that matters not. The House Ethics rules are rather explicit:
"Although the term 'conflict of interest' may be subject to various interpretations in general usage, under federal law and regulation, this term 'is limited in meaning; it denotes a situation in which an official's conduct of his office conflicts with his private economic affairs.' The ultimate concern 'is risk of impairment of impartial judgment, a risk which arrises whenever there is a temptation to serve personal interests.' "
Again, while the amendment benefits all "green" banks, the bank he's invested in will also benefit. This is clearly a conflict of interest, and his actions should be referred to the House Ethics Committee.