Well, it’s really not just some of our Senators. It’s more than half of them. Some fine investigative work by Sludge in partnership with the Guardian has produced a deep dive into the investment portfolios of United States Senators and their spouses, finding troubling alignments between the companies they are profiting from and the ones they are charged with overseeing. Does that sound like it should be illegal to you? Would you be terribly shocked if I told you it wasn’t? (insider.com)
Fifty-one US senators and their spouses have up to $96 million invested in corporate stocks, raising conflict of interest concerns because many of them could pass laws that help those businesses and thus enrich themselves.
An analysis by Sludge and the Guardian — a deep dive you can check out here— looked at the senators’ disclosed stakes totaling $28 million to $96 million across finance, defense, health, communications and electronics, and energy and natural resources companies.
Members of Congress aren’t legally barred from owning stock in companies they oversee, but having a vested interest in their success could affect their impartiality and willingness to pass laws that hurt those businesses.
This is not a red problem or a blue problem. It’s a bipartisan green problem that spreads across both sides of the aisle. Alabama Republican Senator Sen. Richard Shelby comes in near the top of the pack (or should that be bottom?) with somewhere between one and five million dollars worth of stock in private real estate insurance firm Tuscaloosa Title Company. Shelby sits on both the Senate housing and insurance subcommittees, so he’s responsible for oversight of that industry and his decisions have a direct impact on that company’s fortunes.
Quite a few members of the Senate Banking Committee hold stocks in the financial sector. The report lists Doug Jones (D-AL), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).in that category. Really? Bob Menendez has this sort of potentially profitable conflict of interest? Who could have seen that one coming?
What’s rather ironic in this story is that some of these Senators are the same ones that have been very keen on investigating President Trump’s business holdings to make sure that he’s not profiting from being in office. Of course, that’s a proper question to raise because of the emoluments clause if we’re talking about foreign holdings or cash. But we don’t seem to have a specific rule preventing the members of Congress from holding investments in the same industries they hold regulatory power over.
Even if it’s not technically illegal, that still doesn’t mean you should do it, however. If you’re voting on some new regulation that might directly impact the company’s worth, causing the value of your stock to either rise or fall, that’s got to be something that’s taken into consideration, right? Take, for example, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) who sits on the Senate Technology and Consumer Protection subcommittees. When she’s making decisions about whether or not to clamp down on the tech sector, do her sizable investments in Microsoft, Intel, AT&T, and Verizon weigh on her mind?
Unfortunately, I’m not really sure what we do with this information. Since they aren’t technically breaking the law, what’s to be done aside from pushing for a change in the rules? Senators don’t have to put their wealth in a blind trust as the President does. What would be really interesting to see is whether or not any of these Senators made any major buying or selling moves shortly before some bit of news broke that heavily impacted the companies in question. Perhaps some information that only the members of those committees would know because it was based on an upcoming vote? That’s pretty much what got Congressman Chris Collins of New York in trouble as I recall.