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Bass denies energy bill was conflict

Company president met with official

Charlie Bass defended himself yesterday against allegations that he used his influence as a congressman to benefit a relative's company whose stock he then purchased.

Bass, who is attempting to regain his 2nd District seat, is an owner of New England Wood Pellet, a Jaffrey company that manufactures wood pellets used for heating. Bass reported in May that he had between $1 million and $5 million invested with the company.

As a member of Congress in 2005, Bass championed legislation creating a federal rebate program for the purchase of renewable energy systems for homes or small businesses. The rebate would apply to solar, wind and geothermal systems, as well as high-efficiency wood pellet stoves. New England Wood Pellet President Steven Walker, who is married to Bass's niece, told the New York Times in 2005 that he had urged Bass to lobby for the rebate. The program was signed into law but never funded.

In February 2006, Walker met with U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman while the secretary was in New Hampshire promoting a solar power initiative President Bush had described in his State of the Union address. In the March 2006 newsletter of a wood pellet industry association, a New England Wood Pellet representative wrote that Bass had arranged a 'one-on-one' meeting between Walker and Bodman because the congressman 'saw an opportunity to promote the provisions' of the energy bill dealing with the rebate program. The newsletter said Walker and Bodman discussed the process through which the Department of Energy writes rules for such programs and prospects for funding the rebates in the next budget.

The Telegraph of Nashua reported yesterday on the meeting and also on federal disclosure forms Bass had filed, saying he bought New England Wood Pellet stock in January and November 2006. Bass says he erred in filling out the paperwork, and two stock certificates provided by his campaign show Bass joined the limited liability company Jan. 9, 2007. Bass spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said Bass inquired about buying the stock in November 2006, after the election, and received the stock in January 2007 after the board approved his request.

'The real so-called smoking gun is when did Charlie own stock in the company?' Tranchemontagne said. 'He didn't own stock until Jan. 9, 2007. Anything before that is constituent service.'

Bass reported to the U.S. House that he had purchased between $500,000 and $1 million of stock. That transaction was Bass's only investment in the company, Tranchemontagne said. In his financial disclosure forms for 2008, Bass reported owning between $1 million and $5 million of the company. Tranchemontagne said that increase was based upon Bass's estimation of the growth of the company.

'The value of the company has probably tripled since he bought the stock,' he said.

Tranchemontagne said Bass never set up a meeting between Walker and Bodman. The author of the 2006 newsletter article, Charlie Niebling, who oversees sales and wood procurement for New England Wood Pellet, said Walker was one of a number of people who shook hands with Bodman when the secretary toured the facility of GT Solar Technologies in Merrimack. Niebling said Bass's office invited businesspeople from the state to attend the event.

'It wasn't like there was some secret meeting between New England Wood Pellet and Secretary Bodman, with some strategic purpose,' Niebling said. 'It was a glad-handing visit with a high-ranking official who happened to be in New Hampshire.'

Tranchemontagne also said Bass did not promote the rebate program in an effort to help his nephew's company.

'It is not a direct benefit to New England Wood Pellet,' Tranchemontagne said. 'It would encourage people to use alternative energy. . . . That's something Charlie Bass supports.'

At a candidates debate yesterday in Concord, Democratic opponent Ann McLane Kuster offered the allegations of Bass's use of his influence as 'an example of what's wrong with Washington and why we're not turning things around quickly enough.'

Bass retorted that Kuster had claimed to support pellet fuel companies, and he said he had been 'encouraged to step up and put my money where my mouth is' by investing in a company that employs more than 100 people.

'All the allegations that have appeared in the last couple days are ridiculous,' Bass said. 'I had no interest in this company until after I was out of Congress, and frankly I'm proud of that interest.'

After his 12-year tenure in Congress ended in January 2007, Bass became president of the Republican Main Street Partnership and joined the board of managers of New England Wood Pellet. He also became an adviser to Laidlaw Biopower, the company building a wood-burning plant in Berlin, and in March 2009 joined its board.

(Karen Langley can be reached at 369-3316 or klangley@cmonitor.com.)

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