What conflict of interest?

Rep. John Dingell is one of the most powerful congressmen in the House. He is also married to a prominent General Motors lobbyist. Most of the couple's wealth is tied up in GM stock.

But if you think this merits more than a wink and a nod from congressional ethics committees, you would be mistaken, as this Washington Post piece by Kimberly Kindy and Robert O'Harrow describe:

Although Dingell has one of the starkest conflicts in Congress, he is not alone. Congressional stock ownership has soared over the past two decades. To prevent economic collapse over the past year, Congress has staged an unprecedented intervention in the private sector, meaning more and more lawmakers are voting on measures that could affect their personal wealth. For example, the government today owns 60 percent of GM.

Yet the ethics system on Capitol Hill requires little more than annual public disclosure of financial assets and transactions. And it allows lawmakers to largely police themselves and to decide whether their investments pose conflicts.

Dingell, now 83 and the longest-serving member of the House, said he handles conflicts by following his conscience, informed by the lessons from his father and from the tough-minded Jesuits who mentored him in high school.

He and his wife say they scrupulously follow ethics rules and do the right thing even when it harms their financial status, including taking avoidable losses in their GM stock last year as the company spiraled toward bankruptcy.

"I am extremely paranoid and I am careful," Debbie Dingell said in an interview. "Spouses have no official standing on the Hill, but we face enormous scrutiny."

Well, isn't that heroic? I don't know about you, but I am absolutely convinced that Dingell never votes his financial interest or helps his wife in her job. After all, he was mentored by "tough minded Jesuits" in high school. No one who has ever been mentored by tough minded Jesuits in high school has ever done anything unethical, right?

Spare me. The conflict of interest stinks to high heaven. But as the piece points out, Dingell is not alone. How have we  gotten to the point that members can vote on issues that directly affect their personal financial interest? And they want us to trust them that they are pure as the driven snow because some of them may have been mentored by "tough minded" teachers?

This is personal corruption at its worst. And the ethics committees are set up to turn a blind eye to this chicanery.

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky