When journalists and the public are trying to figure out how powerful interests are exerting influence on Congress, the first step is to look at campaign finance records and see who's paying for lawmakers' campaigns. But in recent weeks, disclosures about where members of Congress invest their own money -- such as health care industries -- have raised equally compelling questions about conflicts of interest and the ways corporate considerations influence policy.

Every member of Congress is required to submit a list of their major investments, and the always-helpful Center for Responsive Politics has compiled this data to figure out where our senators and representatives like to put their money. CRP concludes:
Just like many Americans, our elected officials like to play it safe with their investments, betting largely on blue chip companies across diverse industry groups.
What's most interesting is that, because CRP's data is from 2007, we get to see what Congressional members thought were "safe" investments before the 2008 crash.

Remarkably, many of the top Congressional investments were in financial institutions that they'd soon by spending billions to bail out. Here's a quick run-down of the financial institutions Congressional members were invested in, and their rank among all company investments in 2007:

CONGRESSIONAL INVESTMENTS, 2007 (House and Senate)

COMPANY / RANK / # OF CONGRESSIONAL INVESTORS

Bank of America / 5 / 59
Wachovia / 8 / 55
JP Morgan Chase & Co / 11 / 52
Citigroup / 14 / 49
Wells Fargo / 19 / 40
It's interesting to see the two Southern banks that failed so spectacularly -- BoA and Wachovia -- ranking in the top 10. That same year, both were plunging themselves more deeply into the mortgage credit crisis -- especially BoA, which purchased sub-prime albatross Countrywide Financial in August 2007.

Other notable investments with a direct bearing on current policy decisions:

* ENERGY COMPANIES, including ExxonMobil (#8 biggest investment in Congress), Chevron (#23) and ConocoPhillips (#31).

* WAL-MART (#25), which is a major lobbyist on issues from health care to the Employee Free Choice Act.

* HEALTH INTERESTS,
like Pfizer (#5), Johnson and Johnson (#10), Merck & Co (#31) and Bristol Meyers-Squibb (#40).

The most popular investment by far? General Electric, which in 2007 had 53 Democratic and 43 Republican investors.

Also on the list: Government-supported giants AIG (#24) and Goldman Sachs (#46) -- which might be one reason many members of Congress thought they were "too big to fail."