Sunshine Week: Senate energy committee official owns stock in energy companies
By ALLIE MORRIS Monitor staff
"The vice chairman of the senate energy committee owns stock in Kinder Morgan, Spectra Energy and Nextera – three companies affected by the power policies he helps craft.Yet, Republican Sen. Jeb Bradley isn’t breaking legislative ethics rules. In fact, he is exceeding them by reporting his stock holdings.Under state ethics requirements, New Hampshire lawmakers have to disclose personal financial interests. But they aren’t required to list securities.
At least 17 states require some such reporting, including in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Lawmakers there must disclose any securities worth more than $1,000 and $5,000 respectively.“Looking at it in the abstract, I would say yes it should be changed,” said Donna Sytek, chairwoman of the state Legislative Ethics Committee.
Decades ago, the ethics committee intended to require disclosure of securities, but abandoned the proposal after lawmakers pushed back, Sytek said. It hasn’t been changed since.It means state lawmakers could own stock in a solar energy developer or a pharmaceutical company and file bills to boost those industries without the public ever knowing.
On a two-page ethics form, lawmakers must list all household sources of income above $10,000 and check off industries where they may have a conflict of interest. While lawmakers are supposed to explain their financial interest in specific sectors, few do. Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn reported he had a personal financial interest in all 16 categories including water resources and agriculture, writing “use it” and “eat it” as reasons.
Conflicted Bradley is behind a bill this session that could help boost a pipeline expansion through New England that is being developed by Spectra Energy, a company in which he owns stock.
The Houston-based firm partnered with Eversource Energy and National Grid on the $3 billion proposal to bring more natural gas to the region. The project is known as Access Northeast.Bradley couldn’t recall his stake in Spectra and characterized it as a “pretty small amount.” He said the situation doesn’t pose a conflict of interest because his bill would apply broadly to the entire energy industry.
“My legislation is not to benefit Spectra or any particular project,” he said. “It’s to give the [Public Utilities Commission] a chance to lower energy rates and consider things that may or may not be in the public interest.
”The bill could open the door to ratepayer-funded energy projects. Eversource had sought that kind of funding scheme on Access Northeast, but was denied by the Public Utilities Commission last year and is now appealing to the state Supreme Court. If passed, the legislation could give the utility another shot before state energy regulators.
Bradley is the only sponsor out of 10 on the bill who reported a financial interest in a business regulated by the PUC, according to ethics forms. But because lawmakers don’t have to report securities, it’s not clear whether he is the only one with a stake in interested companies. Bradley also owns stock in Nextera, an energy company that owns Seabrook Station and is part of a trade group opposing his bill."
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