The Washington Post published a story using Congressman John Dinghell as an example of the ethics issues involved when you have an investor lawmaker: Dingells and GM illustrate limits of congressional conflict-of-interest rules. Kimberly Kindy and Robert E. O’Harrow Jr. use Congressman Dinghell because of his financial connection with General Motors. This connection was one both of capital and income. His wife was an executive at General Motors and they held a significant amount of GM stock. (She no longer works for GM and old GM stock… well you know what that is worth.)
I did not find the Dinghell example to be compelling. Congressman Dinghell represents metropolitan Detroit. His constituents are just as interested in the future of the automotive business as he is. It seems to me that his personal interests are aligned with those of his district. He and his wife were up front about their ownership of GM and their connection with the company.
That is not to say that legislators’ ownership of stock is not a problem. Uncertainty created about lawmakers’ motivation undermines confidence in Congress and the political process. It is often impossible to know whether the lawmaker is acting in the interest of citizens or their own portfolios.
On top of that, the lawmakers on Capitol Hill are not prevented from trading on stock with inside information. Congressional portfolios have regularly outperformed those of average Americans over the years. There
Availability of Records
Over at the Sunlight Foundation they decided to drill down further at look at the availability of Congressional ethics filings. Daniel Schuman found that many ethics filings are required to be publicly reported, but are not available online and that many ethics filings are not publicly reported. A cynic would say that Congress does not want this information to be widely available.