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Lawmakers' committee assignments and industry investments overlap

Rep. Ron Paul, on a panel that deals with monetary policy, has invested in gold-mining firms.
Rep. Ron Paul, on a panel that deals with monetary policy, has invested in gold-mining firms. (Bill Clark - Roll Call/getty Images)
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Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), for instance, served as chairman of a subcommittee responsible for overseeing technology-oriented efforts to improve homeland security, intelligence, information sharing and risk assessment in 2008. At the time, she disclosed more than $1 million in holdings in companies involved in intelligence and homeland security contracting, including Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who chaired a subcommittee that oversees water quality, owned a stake valued at more than $1 million in Linn Energy, a company that has been cited by federal authorities for alleged water pollution. It is unclear whether specific issues concerning Linn ever came before the subcommittee.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), whose subcommittee keeps watch on clean air and nuclear safety, reported up to $65,000 in holdings in Duke Energy, which uses nuclear plants to generate electricity. Duke is 46th on the list of top 100 "corporate air polluters in the United States," according to researchers at the University of Massachusetts. Duke spokesman Tom Williams said that the company provides power for 11 million people in five states and that some air pollution "kind of goes with what we do."

The membership of some committees had disproportionately large holdings in companies or industries they oversee, The Post analysis shows.

On the House Agriculture Committee, which holds sway over farm policies and subsidies, members had farming and agribusiness investments worth five times on average the amount held by other colleagues in the House. Many of the committee members' holdings were in family farms. Nothing prevents those members from also receiving farm subsidies, and in the past, some have.

Likewise, House Energy and Commerce Committee members, who routinely hold hearings about telecommunications and computer issues, had heavier than average investments in companies such as Oracle, Nokia, AT&T and Verizon.

House Homeland Security Committee members also had more communications and electronics holdings as a group than the House as a whole, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members as a group owned almost six times more holdings in transportation firms.

In the Senate, the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee had on average almost twice the value of holdings in finance, insurance and real estate as that chamber as a whole. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee members had almost three times the value of agribusiness holdings as their colleagues on other committees.

When asked about their investments, committee chairmen and ranking members said their assets generally were managed by professional brokers or were owned by their spouses. They said they took care not to let their personal wealth influence their legislative activity.

In a statement, Harman echoed the sentiments of other lawmakers, saying: "I take seriously my legal and ethical obligations to avoid conflicts of interest. My family and I have portfolio managers who make all investment decisions -- both buy and sell -- without consulting us. All investments are fully disclosed."

Harman, one of the richest members of Congress, is married to a founder of the Harman Kardon electronics fortune, her disclosures show. In her statement, Harman noted that "I recused myself from the ongoing congressional investigation of Toyota because that company has a major supplier relationship with the firm that was founded by my husband."

A spokeswoman for Carper said his holdings in Duke Energy were owned by the senator and his wife. Spokeswoman Emily Cunningham noted that because the financial disclosure statements allow lawmakers to report in ranges, the actual holdings could have been worth from $16,000 to $65,000. But she said that "exact amounts are not available."

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