When Big Oil executives â€œadvisedâ€ the Bush administration on energy policy, a lot of people were rightfully upset over the obvious conflict of interest. So, should we also be upset that Barack Obama is getting environmental advice from those who stand to profit from increased regulation and green investment? Well, Al Gore is in Chicago to discuss energy and climate change with Obama and Joe Biden. And Gore now stands to substantially profit from the implementation of his ideas.
[Gore has] plunked $35 million into a particular â€œfirm that selects the private funds for clients and invests in makers of environmentally friendly products.â€ â€¦
Mr. Gore also has a position in a Silicon Valley â€œgreenâ€ venture capital outfit â€” another group of people investing in companies that would be worth real money in an America with Gore-favored environmental policies. The firm sells carbon â€œoffsets,â€ which are only window dressing at present, but which would be assigned artificial value through artificial scarcity under state-imposed emissions limits.
Goreâ€™s investments by no means invalidate his opinion or diminish his knowledge on the subject. But they do create certain conflicts of interest that Obama and other government officials will have to take into account when seeking Goreâ€™s advice.
A lot of people find ways to profit from the field in which they work. And there is nothing wrong with investing in technologies and companies that are advancing a cause in which you believe. But there is a difference between an advocate and a lobbyist. If Gore is promoting government action that would directly profit him, itâ€™s hard to say heâ€™s not a lobbyist. And if heâ€™s lobbyist, we have to treat him with increased skepticism.
Right now, thereâ€™s no indication that Gore is trying to use his access and authority to generate a big payday. Nor do we know if Obama is turning to Gore just to be considerate or if he plans to turn to Gore repeatedly. But thereâ€™s reason for the rest of us to pay attention. Nothing pollutes public policy as quickly as conflicts of interest. Thatâ€™s true whether weâ€™re talking about Big Oil or clean-energy technology.