- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

EXCLUSIVE:

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.

Elliot S. Berke, a lawyer specializing in government ethics, said lawmakers should be cognizant when it comes to even the mere appearance of an ethical problem.

“Members of Congress always need to be aware of how a personal financial interest and an official action may intersect and whether or not it creates even the appearance of impropriety or a conflict of interest under the House Ethics Rules,” Mr. Berke said.

According to the House Ethics Manual’s guidance on outside employment and income: “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.’ ”

Mr. Perlmutter’s GREEN Act was part of a 300-page amendment added at the last minute to the Waxman-Markey energy bill, which the House passed June 26 by a narrow 219-212 vote.

According to financial disclosure forms, Mr. Perlmutter holds shares in New Resource Bank valued between $15,001 and $50,000 through a trust for his children. His stake in a separate investment partnership totals between $1,001 and $15,000.

Ms. Perlmutter, an environmental lobbyist who divorced Mr. Perlmutter in 2008, said she helped found the bank but did not invest any money into the venture.

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