By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta is a member of the Marcellus Shale Caucus, a group of members of Congress who have teamed up to explore issues related to the growth of the natural gas drilling industry in Pennsylvania.
Barletta’s interest in the industry does not stop there.
He also owns stock in a half dozen gas industry companies, including several that are actively drilling in Pennsylvania and beyond, financial disclosure forms show.
Barletta, R-11 of Hazleton, is required to disclose his stake in the companies, but there are no rules in place to bar him from buying stock. The practice is both legal and permitted under the ethics rules that Congress has written for itself, which allow lawmakers to take actions that benefit themselves or their families except when they are the lone beneficiaries.
The financial disclosure system Congress has implemented also does not require the lawmakers to identify potential conflicts when they take official actions that intersect or overlap with their investments.
Barletta owns 1,250 shares in Kodiak Oil and Gas Corp., 200 shares of Linn Energy LLC, 250 shares of Markwest Energy, 1,000 shares of ALPS Alerian, 150 shares of Cabot Oil and Gas, 300 shares of Emerson Electric, 500 shares of GasFrac Energy Services and 200 shares of a deepwater drilling company, Seadrill Ltd.
Attempts to reach Barletta resulted in a comment on his behalf from his director of communications, Shawn M. Kelly.
“Rep. Barletta does not make financial decisions regarding his portfolio but relies on a financial planner to make those decisions,” Kelly said Monday. “Rep. Barletta has an incredibly diversified portfolio, so it would be unfair to focus on certain votes and ignore others that hurt his portfolio.”
Barletta also owns stock in IBM, Apple and Google, among other non-energy-related companies.
The findings about Barletta emerge from an examination of financial disclosure forms and public records for all 535 members of the House and Senate.
Harvard public policy professor Dennis Thompson said lawmakers should refrain from having narrowly focused legislative agendas that align with their personal investments. Disclosure also should be broadened, he said, so the public is notified by a lawmaker of potential conflicts at the time they are taking official actions, including when bills are introduced.
“Ethics rules are supposed to make things clear and transparent,” Thompson said. “They should not require the public or the media to go digging around to make the connections.”
With reporting by The Washington Post.