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.
No Lobbyist Left Behind
If we forced CNN commentators to wear the names of their clients on their sleeves like NASCAR drivers we might have a deeper, more honest debate over what’s going on in Washington.
Unless you live under a rock without any form of media, it’s hard to miss the nonstop frenzy over dumb comments made by CNN commentator Hilary Rosen about Ann Romney.
Rosen said Romney never worked a day in her life, which made her unqualified to comment on the economy. Republicans then attacked Rosen as another in a long line of Democratic elitists who have no respect for women who work in the home.
When she comments on CNN, the network labels Rosen a “Democratic strategist,” though they don’t disclose any particular strategy that she’s come up with.
CNN doesn’t mention her work representing many high-profile clients in Washington, D.C. with interests across a wide range of issues. Her firm, SKDKnickerbocker is filled with former government employees cashing in on their contacts on behalf of their corporate clients. The firm, which includes President Obama’s former communications director Anita Dunn as managing director, isn’t required to disclose clients because it doesn’t acknowledge that what it does is lobbying. In Washington-speak the firm is “political consulting and public relations firm.”
Last year, Bloomberg Business week reported that the firm coordinated an army of lobbyists unleashed by a coalition led by Google, Apple and Cisco pushing for a tax holiday.
The Republic Report compiled a partial list of clients, including big railroads, agricultural interests, PepsiCo and General Mills and for-profit education companies.
In addition, the Washington Free Beacon reported that Dunn pitched SKDKnickerbocker’s services as part of a team that offered to restore hedge funds’ sullied reputations, though apparently nobody swung.
Rosen’s poke at Ann Romney may have stirred up media frenzy, offering just the excuse for a jive revival of jive working mom v. stay-at-home brawl that sheds no light and offers no insight to anybody.
It’s also not the kind of controversy that’s likely to upset Rosen’s clients, who will recognize it for the sideshow it is compared to their free-flowing access to the White House. It’s more likely that it will provide Rosen with an opportunity for some good-natured self-deprecating humor to grease her way as she makes the rounds through the corridors of power.
The Obama administration has made a big deal about how it holds itself to a higher standard by not taking money from lobbyists. But that doesn’t mean lobbyists don’t have a strong presence in the White House, as the New York Times reported Saturday. “Many of the president’s biggest donors, while not lobbyists, took lobbyists with them to the White House, while others performed essentially the same function on their visits,” the Times reported.
Several years ago, GOOD magazine came up with the idea of making politicians wear suits with the names of their biggest contributors, like NASCAR drivers advertise their sponsors. Politicians have been reluctant to embrace the idea. They’re perfectly happy to keep us focused on the sideshow provided by Rosen and those like her, who babble phony nonsense on TV but profit from their access to the real game off-screen.