It is not clear just what the FBI is investigating at the real estate investment company once owned by U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger.
But it does seem clear that the Charlotte Republican should release the letter from the House Ethics Committee that he says approves of his sale of the company to his wife 2 ½ years ago.
Conflict-of-interest rules bar members of the House of Representatives from working in fiduciary professions that require them to manage other people’s assets, including real estate.
So, prior to taking the 9th District seat in 2012, Pittenger sold his business, Pittenger Land Investments, to his wife, Suzanne. Pittenger has told the Observer’s Ely Portillo that he has no financial interest or direct role in the company anymore.
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Now, selling your company to your wife might not seem to be the cleanest break from a former business and potential conflicts. However, Pittenger’s chief of staff, Stephen Billy, told McClatchy’s Franco Ordonez that the ethics committee’s letter gave guidelines on how to divest, and that no one from the committee has expressed any concerns about the sale to his wife.
Members of Congress don’t have to make such letters public, but others have, especially when questions were being raised about their dealings.
Pittenger says he won’t do it. That’s a mistake, considering the fact that the FBI inquiry and other developments involving his former firm are raising so many questions.
Pittenger’s son Bobby left the company 10 months ago, a move that puzzled investors who thought he was running the firm in the wake of his father’s departure for Congress. Bobby Pittenger has said he left for another real estate job and to spend more time with his children.
Also, a sale of the company’s land holdings to a Florida company was scuttled after investors said they didn’t like the terms of the sale or the speed at which they were being asked to approve it.
Pittenger’s top aide, Brad Jones, resigned last month, also to spend time with family. Pittenger’s office has told Observer reporters that Jones’ departure had nothing to do with the FBI probe. And Pittenger has expressed confidence that Pittenger Land Investments has done nothing wrong.
Even if that is all true, Pittenger should still release the letter from the ethics committee.
In situations like these, questions left unanswered don’t simply go away. They feed on themselves, with little doubts giving way to wild suspicions.
The letter might not bring any clarity to the situation. But the fact that he’s saying no to releasing it when he could say yes? That’s not something the public will forget, or support.
Just ask Hillary Clinton.