Perlmutter, Tipton acting ethically, according to House ethics rules

A Denver Post article June 17 reported that both Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Rep. Scott Tipton have stock investments in industries that could be affected by the lawmakers’ votes in congressional committees.

The Post quoted experts who stated that both Congressmen’s stock investments were ostensibly legal.

But while one expert quoted in the The Post said that the Congressmen’s behavior was unethical, the article didn’t offer a clear countervailing view, namely that neither Representative is necessarily acting unethically.

Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for public disclosure by public officials, told me today that neither Perlmutter nor Tipton was necessarily engaging in unethical behavior:

“What Congress has done is to say that disclosure is the best way to handle these questions. Congress is not going to force people to divest themselves of all of their stock, and basically separate themselves from the economy and have no interest in the economy. So disclosure is the way to go, but it’s got to be a lot better.”

He added:

“As long as it’s disclosed, they are not in violation of any kind of ethics laws.”

Allison was quoted in The Post article saying:

“Do you want them not to have investments, like regular Americans do? When you think about the case-by-case basis, the farmer who comes to Congress, are you saying he shouldn’t be involved in the Agriculture Committee?”

In my interview today, Allison answered his own question by saying it depends on the situation, but he hadn’t seen evidence of unethical behavior.

Asked about this, Luis Toro, Director of Colorado Ethics Watch, said via email:

 “While there is evidence that the portfolios of Members of Congress have performed better than those of the general public, there is no evidence that either Rep. Tipton or Rep. Perlmutter have taken advantage of their position to gain an advantage. Neither one of them has changed their portfolios once they got into Congress. For us the ethical concern is when members are buying or selling stock on inside information about the industry they regulate, and there is no evidence that this happened here. In fact, Rep. Perlmutter’s office pointed out that his family has owned that banking stock for a long time.”

The  House Ethics Manual states plainly that neither Perlmutter nor Tipton were acting unethically according House ethics rules :

No statute or rule requires the divestiture of private assets or holdings by Members or employees of the House upon entering their official position….The speaker would not rule that a Member owning stocks in breweries or distilleries should be disqualified in voting on the proposed amendment to the Constitution concerning prohibition of the manufacture and sale of liquor.”

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