Illinois Democratic representative Sean Casten has urged Congress to spend billions of dollars on "tax credits for clean energy." Excluded from his pitch is any mention of his ownership stake in an alternative energy company that would benefit from such spending.
Casten on Monday joined environmental advocates at a "Climate Action Now" rally, imploring his House colleagues to pass President Joe Biden's $3.5 trillion spending plan with "no compromises" on subsidies and incentives for the alternative energy sector. Casten did not divulge his vested financial interest in those provisions.
According to Casten's latest financial disclosure, the Democrat holds an ownership stake in Greenleaf Power, a self-described "leading provider of renewable energy in North America." The company, its website states, sells carbon-neutral electricity to "municipal, public power, and investor owned utilities." Biden's multitrillion-dollar bill, meanwhile, includes a $150 billion program to compel electric and municipal power providers to purchase more renewable energy.
The value of Casten's stake in Greenleaf is unclear. While the Democrat reported holding up to $500,000 in the company in 2019, his 2020 financial disclosure asserts that the asset holds no value, even though Casten earned up to $2,500 in interest income that year. Casten did not return multiple requests for comment on the discrepancy. The revelation could undermine Casten's charge to "prioritize climate action at the scale science demands" in Biden's spending plan. The Democrat has argued explicitly for $273 billion in "tax credits for clean energy" without acknowledging his alternative energy investments. Casten has also aligned with liberals to attack partymates who oppose the spending, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.).
"We're trying to drive a car into the future," Casten said during a Tuesday MSNBC interview. "With all due respect to Mr. Manchin, until we're lining up to take off the emergency brake this car ain't driving very fast. It's certainly not driving as fast as it needs to, and that's the pressure we as Democrats have to keep focused on."
Casten's spokeswoman, Emilia Rowland, confirmed on Tuesday that the Democrat still holds an ownership stake in Greenleaf but added that he "has no control, managerial or otherwise" over the company. The financial disclosures, however, alarmed government ethics watchdogs. Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust executive director Kendra Arnold said disclosure of lawmakers' financial interests in the legislation they advocate is essential.
"Whether or not [Casten] makes $5,000 or $25,000 off of a company in a year doesn't matter. It's his potential to change the law in order to make more money from something he owns," Arnold told the Washington Free Beacon. "In this case, it's always important to note for constituents if he's sponsoring legislation, if he's talking about specific legislation that would directly benefit something he does have an ownership stake in—that's where our conflict of interest rules come up."
In addition to Greenleaf, Casten owns an up to $15,000 stake in GOE Capital Partners, a Minnesota-based "waste recycling and green energy company," his 2020 financial disclosure shows.
Casten's pledge to secure funding and subsidies for alternative energy in Biden's $3.5 trillion bill may lead him to oppose the president's bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Casten reportedly indicated he is leaning toward voting against the bipartisan bill if the House does not simultaneously take up the multitrillion-dollar spending proposal.
A who's who of liberal lawmakers have already committed to the strategy, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.), Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.), and Ayanna Pressley (D., Mass.).