Sen. Ron Johnson’s impressive step to avoid conflicts of interest

posted at 1:20 pm on June 24, 2011 by Tina Korbe

Too cool. Before he ever assumed office, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) liquidated much of his investment portfolio, so as to avoid conflicts of interest, according to the latest financial disclosures released last week. The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire reports:

First-year Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and his wife, Jane, sold their stake in more than 100 companies and mutual funds before he was sworn in, according to the latest batch of financial disclosures released last week.

In a brief interview, the political neophyte said he wanted to start his congressional career with a clean slate and didn’t want to give the appearance that he was conflicted as a legislator. Mr. Johnson’s political career began with a pair of well-received speeches at tea-party rallies about the perils of the president’s health-care bill. He embraced the outsider’s mantle during his campaign and is trying to establish himself as a leading voice for fiscal restraint.

That doesn’t mean he’s struggling financially: The founder of Pacur, a plastics manufacturer, earned more than $10 million last year from the company he recently handed over to his brother, Barry Johnson. But what a beautiful word — “earned.” As an innovative entrepreneur, Johnson created that wealth for himself. Just as it was when he ran for office, Johnson’s business acumen is a point in his favor, as it surely gives him a fresh perspective on the problems that plague the federal government.

What impresses me at the moment is the bold simplicity of Johnson’s decision to sell so many of his stocks. Obviously, he wouldn’t have had to do that. After all, many members of Congress trade stocks and bonds — and I’d even argue it’s reassuring that people who have such power over policy also have a personal interest in the state of the economy, as measured by the stock market. But, by and large, this kind of gesture, even if primarily symbolic in Johnson’s case and impracticable in the cases of most other members of Congress, is refreshing, a reminder that some legislators still strive for impartiality as they consider what laws would be best for the entire country.


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