Taking Stock (Away From Their Control)

Today I’m going to be non-partisan and that is not a natural position for me. If you asked me what the biggest problem is in American politics I would say it is the undo influence money has – that is totally non-partisan. If you asked many, particularly on the right, they would say the lack of confidence many Americans have in their elected officials. Today I want to propose a relatively simple (nothing is simple in American politics at the highest levels) partial solution to both issues.

We need new legislation to replace the Stock Act which would simply prohibit members of Congress from owning stock or at the least make them place their stock holdings in true blind trust as long as they are in office. The Stock Act calls for members to report any stock transactions within 45 days of execution. We recently had an example of why that doesn’t work. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul bought stock on what to anyone with a functioning brain appears to be insider information and didn’t report the transaction for 16 months. In short, Paul is blaming the situation on an aide who failed to press send on an electronic document.

In the course of their service members of Congress are privy to information that is in effectively  insider information. They get that information so that they can exercise informed leadership; not so that they can call their brokers. My root question is why are they allowed to own stock in the first place? If that is prohibited the potential problem is eliminated.

The ban would have to go a bit deeper. You couldn’t hold stock in the name of a shell company, spouse or child. (Mistresses anyone?)
If you don’t want to go that far at least make members hold stock in truly blind trusts. Not ones administered by family members (California Senator Diane Feinstein and former president Donald Trump – I know he wasn’t a member of Congress but similar legislation needs to be in place for other elected officials, certainly including the president.)

Even our currently inadequate rules have cast a spotlight on several members of Congress in recent years alone. Former Representative Chris Collins of New York was convicted of insider trading (albeit with a foreign stock) but then he was pardoned by Trump who he was the first sitting member of Congress to endorse during the 2016 race. I’m certain there was no connection; no, I’m not!

Veteran North Carolina Senator Richard Burr was investigated but, like Feinstein, appeared to have enough juice that the investigation basically went away.

I am a realist and know there is no chance of immediately effective legislation on this issue passing anytime in my lifetime. As you can see just from this brief article the problem transcends party lines. More importantly it makes for bad legislation and rightfully undermines public confidence in government.

What might have a chance is legislation with a grandfather clause in it. Have no doubt that at its root we are dealing with greed. The attitude of the current perpetrators is I got mine; in the interest of maintaining my PG rating I’ll let you complete this sentence. In the entire history of America only 53 people have ever served more than 40 years in Congress. So even with a grandfather clause the problem would be completely cleaned up in this century and mostly cleaned up in about two decades. Perfect? No. A start and a huge improvement? Yes!

There are those who will say this would be a disincentive to run. My reply is that if you are running for self enrichment not service we neither need nor want you anyway. I don’t mind paying members of Congress and I’m one of the few liberals who feels the base of $174,000 is too low. I just want all the “payments” to be above board and the actions of the members of Congress in the interest of the people not their personal profit.

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