President Obama praised the STOCK Act when he signed it into law in April as a good first step to rid Congress of financial conflicts that undermine public confidence.
But it’s really no more than a fast makeup job to cover up the continuing blemishes on our democracy and give the president and members of Congress some talking points for the campaign trail.
The STOCK Act is supposed to prohibit legislators from profiting from the nonpublic information they get on the job. The STOCK Act also prohibits members of Congress from participating in initial public offerings unavailable to the public, and provides some additional public disclosure of congressional stock trading.
But we already know that members of Congress do better than civilians when they invest in the stock market. According to a 2011 study, investment portfolios of members of the House beat the market by about 6 percent annually, mimicking the performance of the stock portfolios of their Senate colleagues.
As an example, the Washington Post reported, four congressmen sitting on a committee investigating deceptive billing practices by video game makers sold their stock in the country’s biggest video game maker, GameStop, one of the companies under investigation.
One of the most egregious examples is Sen. Tom Coburn, the Republican Oklahoma senator who has made a name for himself preaching government austerity and self-righteously criticizing both parties for not having the courage to make the cuts needed to reduce the debt.
But austerity and sacrifice were apparently not on Sen. Coburn’s mind when he bought $25,000 in bonds in a genetic technology company at the same time he released a hold on legislation that the company supported. A hold is an informal Senate practice by which a senator can stall a piece of legislation. Coburn, meanwhile, cast one of the few votes against the STOCK Act, dismissing it as nothing more than a stunt.
One clue to just how innocuous the STOCK Act is: it was opposed by only two votes in the House and three in the Senate. This confirms my theory that whenever you see much ballyhooed-bipartisanship at work, you can be sure that members of Congress are either doing the bidding of the 1 percent, or covering their own butts.
The bottom line is that while members of Congress pass laws that prohibit other government officials from presiding over companies and industries in which they have a financial interest, Congress effectively exempts itself from such broad restrictions.
Writing on Yahoo Finance, Ron DeLegge outlines the STOCK Act’s major flaws and omissions: it still allows the sleazy, little-known practice of members selling “political intelligence” to lobbyists as well as continuing to allow members of Congress to own stock in industries over which they can exert influence.
The STOCK Act reminds us, when it comes to Congress, we shouldn’t be distracted by lame cover-ups or blather about bipartisanship, we should follow the money.
And we shouldn’t forget: it’s not their money.
It’s our money.