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Senate panel ban seen as double standard

The committee's Democrats held $1.3 million to $5 million during their tenure; Republicans held $2.3 million to $4.9 million. Under congressional rules, lawmakers are required to report assets only in broad ranges on financial disclosure forms.

Ethics laws allow senators to hold stocks in industries they oversee. They also may push and vote for programs that could improve the bottom lines of companies in which they own stock. They are precluded, however, from taking official actions that could boost their personal wealth if they are the sole beneficiaries.

Most of the senators who have holdings in Pentagon vendors told The Post that they see no reason why they should have to divest. Only Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who owned as much as $315,000 in the banned stocks, said he supports extending the prohibition to members of the Armed Services Committee.

Several members - including Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) - said they sold some of the stocks on the prohibition list this year for financial reasons, but the disclosures for 2010 will not become public until the end of next year, along with those of the rest of Congress.

The Post analysis found that Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the panel's ranking Republican; Sen. Kay R. Hagan (D-N.C.); and James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), along with their family members, have had the largest amount of money invested in companies with military contracts dating to 2004.

Nine lawmakers either did not have holdings in the companies or are newly appointed to the panel.

Eight senators and their family members held assets in the nation's top defense contractors, including General Electric, Northrop Grumman and United Technologies. Those assets were worth as much as $1 million.

The senators and their families also had assets in commonly held stocks that the committee prohibits because the firms do more than $25,000 in business with the Pentagon. Those companies include Microsoft, Pfizer and Exxon Mobil.

The Post requested interviews with and submitted questions about the divestment policy to the 19 senators with prohibited holdings. None agreed to an interview, although some responded in writing.

"I think the premise of the story is seriously flawed, and we will decline comment," said Gail Gitcho, the communications director for Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

"Senator McCain has always maintained strict adherence to all Senate ethics rules, including the rules covering disclosure of finances by members of the United States Senate," said his spokeswoman, Brooke Buchanan, noting that most of the assets are held by the senator's wife, Cindy McCain, a scion of one of the largest Anheuser-Busch distributorships.

Will Jenkins, a spokesman for Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), said: "Senator Webb has been careful to comply with all Senate ethics rules in order to avoid any conflict of interest. Likewise, when he served in the Pentagon, he adhered to the conflict of interest requirements of the Department of Defense."

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