Former Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) doesn't have a large margin of error in his bid for his old job back. He's effectively tied at the moment with Democrat Ann McLane Kuster. That may change, however, after news broke that he bought stock in New England Wood Pellet while in Congress and later helped set up a meeting between company executives and a Bush administration official -- a possible violation of House ethics rules.
Kuster's campaign called the news "troubling."
From the Nashua Telegraph:
Republican congressional candidate Charles Bass admitted Wednesday that he mistakenly self reported he had bought at least $500,000 worth of privately held stock in a Jaffrey-based wood pellet company the last year he served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In March 2007, Bass revealed on his own financial disclosure statement that he had bought shares in New England Wood Pellet in January and November 2006.
During an interview Wednesday, Bass insisted his own disclosure forms were incorrect and he did not obtain any stock in the company until after he lost his 2006 re-election campaign to Democrat Paul Hodes.
Bass said he first inquired about buying stock after the election in November 2006 and the New England Wood Pellet’s Board of Managers approved selling shares to Bass in January 2007.
"I only acquired the stock after serving in Congress," Bass said during a telephone interview. "There is nothing wrong with getting into the business after I got out of office and that’s just what I did."
Bass said he has the stock certificates to prove the purchase of stock in January 2007 and not a year earlier.
In January 2007, Hodes replaced Bass in office. Bass joined NEWP's board of managers Jan. 18, 2007.
New England Wood Pellet officials publicly credited Bass with setting up a February 2006 meeting in New Hampshire between Secretary Samuel Bodman and Steven Walker, president of the wood pellet firm.
"Congressman Bass, who introduced and championed passage of the Renewable Energy Security Act (RESA) provisions of the 2005 energy bill, saw an opportunity to promote the provisions of the act through a meeting between Walker and Secretary Bodman," said the March 2006 newsletter of the Pellet Fuels Institute.
Walker is married to Bass' niece.
As for the meeting with President George W. Bush’s energy secretary, Bass said he had nothing to do with setting one up and said he has never spoken with Bodman about the biomass industry.
A leading ethics watchdog said if Bass bought stock while in Congress and later helped set up a meeting with a Bush administration official, this would clearly violate House ethics rules.
"This would have clearly been a conflict of interest and clearly an even more serious one had he not disclosed to the Energy Department he already had a financial interest in the company," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington.
A spokesman for Ann McLane Kuster, Bass’ 2nd Congressional District rival, said his explanation fails to settle the matter.
"This is deeply troubling and leaves a lot of questions unanswered," said Colin Van Ostern, Kuster’s campaign manager.