As they set national policy on important issues such as climate change, tech monopolies, medical debt and income inequality, US senators have glaring conflicts of interest, an investigation by news website Sludge and the Guardian can reveal.
An analysis of personal financial disclosure data as of 16 August has found that 51 senators and their spouses have as much as $96m personally invested in corporate stocks in five key sectors: communications/electronics; defense; energy and natural resources; finance, insurance and real estate; and health.
The majority of these stocks come from public companies, and some are private.
Overall, the senators are invested in 338 companies – including tech firms such as Apple and Microsoft, oil and gas giants including ExxonMobil and Antero Midstream, telecom companies including Verizon, and major defense contractors such as Boeing – in the five sectors as categorized by Sludge.
Congressional financial disclosures present investments in dollar ranges, not exact amounts, so all data in this report comes in ranges, some very wide. The median stock investment range in the five sectors for the 51 senators is between $100,000 and $365,000, while the average range of the investments is between $551,000 and nearly $1,874,000.
Not only are the senators far wealthier than most of their constituents, but they’re in a prime position to increase their wealth via policymaking.
It’s not illegal for members of Congress to have personal financial stakes in the industries on which they legislate. But such investments raise questions about lawmakers’ motivations. If a representative on the House financial services committee owns hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock in Bank of America, how might this investment affect their questioning of Bank of America’s CEO in a hearing? Could it influence how they legislate and vote on banking issues?