Oh, to be a Washington insider... armed with what anyone else would call "material information," the kind that moves markets.
Not, of course, that anybody in Congress would ever use their positions as crafty, I mean crafters, of laws, or disseminators of dollars, to make a wager on the roll of the dice they have marked up in their sweaty little hands.
Those illustrious lawmakers and budget breakers, no doubt by accident or by mistake, tried that for as long as they could get away with it. Trading on "inside" information whispered on Capitol Hill.
But once they got wrist-slapped, they have, I am sure, sworn stock plunging off their daily routines. Or at least they swear they have.
No, they didn't swear off insider trading on their own. But inside the "club," anything goes.
The pump-and-dumpers in Congress were actually straitjacketed by a law they themselves came out with after some public outrage over a "60 Minutes" investigation put them in the hot seat.
The legislation was called the STOCK Act, or more formerly the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act. It was passed in 2012 to make sure the laws they said they weren't breaking (because they don't apply to them) weren't going to be broken again, by them.
The bill was designed to prevent insider trading among lawmakers and government officials by requiring them to post disclosures of their financial transactions online.
Any guesses on how well that worked...?
Not that it matters - because what I'm going to tell you next isn't part of where I'm going with this story - but, merely for your information, the meat of the STOCK Act was repealed this past April.
Government officials and their aides and confidents will still have to file disclosures of trades over $1,000 within 45 days. But as a result of the repeal, they no longer have to file them "in a searchable database to be easily accessible to the public."
That makes sense. You don't get it? You will once you hear the reasoning for the repeal.
You see, the National Academy of Public Administration, a nonprofit group, funded by you'll never guess who (if you can't guess: the Academy boasts it has over 700 Fellows-including former cabinet officers, members of Congress, governors, mayors, and state legislators, as well as prominent scholars, business executives, and public administrators, they left out lobbyists, but whatever), found that publishing the information would create an "unwarranted risk to national security and law enforcement, as well as threaten agency missions, individual safety and privacy."
They suggested that the online posting requirements should be suspended indefinitely. And so it came to pass... the repeal, that is.
But I digress.
It turns out that last week federal investigators who were probing how a change in U.S. healthcare policy got leaked to some Wall Street traders before it was publically announced questioned the healthcare aide to Sen. Charles Grassley for four hours.
But don't worry. The aide, Rodney Whitlock, didn't have to answer a lot of the investigators' probing questions. That's because his boss's staff was conducting a parallel investigation, and of course you just can't interfere in a senator's investigation.
That's a neat little trick.
And even if that parallel interference pass wasn't enough to intercept investigators irritating questioning and probing, Congress perps, I mean peeps (as in people), and their close cronies have a constitutional privilege known as the Speech or Debate Clause. The clause essentially protects them from civil and criminal lawsuits.
According to Wikipedia, "The intended purpose [of the Clause] is to prevent a President or other officials of the executive branch from having members [of Congress] arrested on a pretext to prevent them from voting a certain way or otherwise taking actions with which the President might disagree."
Somehow, that which made constitutional sense as the country was being formed has been expanded by bandits in Congress to protect themselves and their aides and staffers from... investigations.
Whitlock's peeps invoked the Speech or Debate Clause in his defense of his position that he didn't have to tell anyone about what position he had put himself in.
The problem for investigators looking into stuff like insider trading by the people the STOCK Act was supposed to prevent from insider trading, is that an outfit with its own subpoena powers, like, say, the Justice Department, has to get around the Speech or Debate Clause protections to get answers to questions about things they are investigating.
And guess what. The full Senate has to vote to give approval to end around the clause protections afforded senators, congressmen their aides, which by the good graces of Congress now extends to former lawmakers and aides, too.
Now that's my idea of a club!
To make amends and stop acting like Wall Street traders, Congress has the chance to end Too Big to Fail Banks and future bailouts by passing the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act. Shah has the story.