As the heads of the Big Three auto companies face the Senate to beg for a bailout, those hoping for a little tough love for Detroit (or anything, really, other than unconditional love) should be thankful that, over in Congress' lower house, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., is no longer boss of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
As committee chair, Dingell was notorious for faithfully serving Detroit’s interests, infuriating environmentalists and eventually prompting the challenge from Henry Waxman that toppled him from the post. Last month, Tom Friedman wrote of Dingell,
The blame for this travesty not only belongs to the auto executives, but must be shared equally with the entire Michigan delegation in the House and Senate, virtually all of whom, year after year, voted however the Detroit automakers and unions instructed them to vote ... Indeed, if and when they do have to bury Detroit, I hope that all the current and past representatives and senators from Michigan have to serve as pallbearers. And no one has earned the "honor" of chief pallbearer more than the Michigan Representative John Dingell, who is more responsible for protecting Detroit to death than any single legislator.
Dingell’s ability to stick up to the Big Three, it turns out, may have been compromised in more ways than one. Dingell’s wife, Deborah, is a former General Motors lobbyist. After the two wed, she moved into a non-lobbying administrative position inside the company. On his latest financial disclosure form, Dingell listed G.M. stock worth up to $300,000, between $500,001 and $1,000,000 in stock options, a vested G.M. pension and his wife’s G.M. salary, the value of which was undeclared. On top of that, CBS News reports, the Dingells had G.M. options worth up to $5 million as recently as 2000, and in 1998, they sold options worth as much as $1 million.
Of course, considering the state he represents -- and the almost $1 million he's gotten in campaign contributions from the company -- it would’ve been in Dingell’s interest to act like the congressman from General Motors even if he didn’t have a dime invested in it. But this doesn’t look too good.