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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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 14, 2010

Rep. Ron Paul is captivated by gold. Over the past two decades, he has written books about the virtues of gold-backed currency. He has made uncounted speeches about the precious metal. He even took a leadership post on the House subcommittee that oversees the nation's monetary policy, mints and gold medals.

But his focus on gold goes beyond the theoretical.

In recent years, Paul (R-Tex.) has poured hundreds of thousands of his own dollars into stocks of some of the world's largest gold-mining operations, according to a review of his financial disclosure forms by The Washington Post. In 2008, while advocating for the United States to reinstate a gold standard, he reported owning up to $1.5 million in shares of at least nine gold-production companies. In addition, he disclosed up to $200,000 in silver stocks. In all, those holdings represented close to half of his assets.

The intersection of Paul's investments, policy convictions and congressional duties is acceptable under the ethics rules that govern lawmaker investing, a code of behavior that stands in stark contrast to the stricter regulations that government and private executives typically must follow.

But the mix of his interests -- when stock and other private-sector investing on Capitol Hill is near an all-time high -- underscores an age-old concern: How to ensure that congressional leaders are acting in the interests of voters and not themselves?

Paul said that for him, there is no conflict, because his advocacy of gold is consistent with his views on monetary policy, something that everyone knows he has been discussing for more than 30 years.

"It's the reason I ran for Congress," he said. "It's a reflection of my philosophy."

Paul said he has consciously never taken any legislative action that would directly benefit his gold investments. He said his only goal is to strengthen the U.S. currency. In fact, he said, if that occurred, his gold stocks would drop in value.

Assignments, wealth

In both houses of Congress, a host of other committee chairmen and ranking members have reported that they have millions invested in business sectors that their panels oversee, according to a Post analysis of financial disclosure records through 2008, committee assignments and lawmaker investments by industry.

The disclosure reports covering 2009 will be made public in the coming days. But because lawmakers still use a pen-and-paper method of reporting, it will be months before the information is entered into a database by the Center for Responsive Politics and then made available for analysis by The Post.

While many lawmakers have no investments in sectors under their oversight, some congressional committees had notably high concentrations of such holdings, The Post's analysis shows.

The patterns are important because committee chairmen and ranking members have more power than their colleagues to raise questions, hold hearings and push through targeted legislation that in some cases governs the industries in which they have investments.

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