Conflicting finances

Besides being essential to the United States’ recent prosperity, the booming and lucrative stock markets have given many Americans an often significant financial stake in the success or failure of corporations. Not surprisingly, public servants are among those citizens with profitable investments on Wall Street, raising troublesome questions about possible conflicts of interest that naturally emerge from the close involvement legislators and government employees have with the policies that affect stock values. Only by forcing candidates to fully disclose their financial investments would voters be able to keep those who wish to profit monetarily from their public service out of office.
U.S. Senate candidate Mark Dayton has throughout the election condemned the pharmaceutical companies for price gouging and predatory practices. A Pioneer Press reporter, however, recently discovered a $500,000 investment Dayton had made in Abbot Laboratories, a large pharmaceutical firm and reminded the DFL candidate of the investment on Tuesday.
Although this hypocritical stock ownership is only a potential conflict of interest (and after the reporter joggled Dayton’s memory, the candidate says he immediately sold the stock), it should remind voters of the unethical and sometimes illegal involvement legislators have with businesses they might regulate during their time in office. While the U.S. Congress and many states have stringent conflict of interest laws regarding corporate contributions, legislators with financial stake in a company are generally left to either their own ethical standards or the public’s discovery and condemnation of the involvement.
But as many Congressional portfolios remain secret, only legislation forcing politicians to submit thorough financial statements will help to guarantee their votes are not influenced by their financial interests.