Saturday, December 3, 2011

Stock Act and Political Intelligence: Why Congress must now act for its own good!

Keywords or Terms: Political Intelligence; Political Insider; Insider Information and Trading; Voter’s Confidence; First-to-Know Information; Lobby Groups; Congressional Lawmakers; Steve Kroft; Martha Stewart; Raj Rajaratnam; and, Transparency in Governance

CBS 60 Minute Program recently visited some lawmakers in congress, attempting to find out why congress is not playing by the same rule as Americans when it comes to insider trading information and stock trading. Congressmen probably failed to see the connection between having insider information regarding impending bills and abuse of the information in purchasing stocks on the whiff by lawmakers and congressional staff. However, after a couple of vivid examples alluded to, where lawmakers and congressional staff had taken advantage of what is referred to as political intelligence to benefit their wealth or pockets, it became obvious why the stock act must move ahead, after languishing in congressional committees.

In a time, when congress is lacking in voter’s confidence, when many bills that could have done good for the people, especially millions that are unemployed, are hardly budging in congress, it is time for congress to act on the stock act to burnish its lackadaisical image. Congress cannot continue to live in a long shadow of deviousness, when and where many congressmen and their staff have exploited the benefit of being the first to know, to expand their largesse in the open market for stocks and bonds. CBS 60 minutes sought details about congressional leaders buying of stocks and bonds just before the passing of the health care and financial reform bills, and hardly could both leaders questioned in press conferences could give a straight answer. Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi were caught flat-footed when Steve Kroft questioned them about stocks and or bonds tradings that seem to have benefited these lawmakers just before the passing of some bills; and, the question and answer session looked rather embarrassing, if not completely disastrous for the leadership role that these leaders play in America’s Politics.

Neither Pelosi nor Boehner has a plan for a memoir about how congressional lawmakers had exploited the first-to-know information regarding the dynamics of bills in conduit that may directly or indirectly jolt the market on Wall Street. None of them could tell a better story regarding how many of their followers in congress and their staff had exploited the first-to-know privilege of lawmaking to better their financial largesse. Hours of video of such memoirs by Hollywood would have made the public wonder truly about our Democracy and the integrity of our lawmakers and their staff. Alas, these lawmakers had taken a two, in articulating the difficult situation they had put themselves by having financially beneficial trading closed with suspiciously too close a time to when a related bill passed in congress.

Martha Stewart, business magnate and founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Raj Rajaratnam, former hedge fund manager and founder of the Gallup Group, went to jail for insider trading; both today are felons and practically stripped of the right to vote in many states. Each were reputable member of the corporate business world before being caught doing similar things to what some congressmen and their staff are accused of in the 60 Minute expose. Congressional lawmakers still have the opportunity to create and pass laws that affect the lives of every American. Congressional lawmakers who swore to protect the country and the constitution, seems to be violating their oath of office by doing same things that have landed Americans in jail: exploiting the first-to-know privilege to expand personal wealth!

This is interesting, considering that we live in a world of 24/7 information sharing. When congressional lawmakers took oath to protect the constitution, their respective obligations include the protection of the process of making laws. When congressional lawmakers share information regarding bills working through congress with their staff and family members, they all stand to recoup millions by exploiting the privilege. For example, friends and associates who have a blackberry, android and or 4G information sharing devices, who are necessarily not in proximity of Pennsylvania Avenue, can exploit the same privilege. Since the public are excluded from this privilege, it is important that congress look at itself in the mirror and ask the question: Is this really fair? Is this what our constituent sent us to Washington DC to do?

Today, the question of integrity is often swept under the rug like a run-off from American streets and farms. In a world of reality television, where men and women of lesser aptitude and intelligence, are portrayed as ideal role model, it is probably acceptable for some lawmakers with convoluted integrity to justify the action that congressmen and staff are being accused; but the truth is, what is wrong is wrong, whether it is being done by a congressional lawmaker or a businessman or women in their corner offices on Wall Street. The use of insider information or political intelligence as it is called in Washington DC lobby ally; to better one’s financial purse is wrong and cast smog on the integrity of our lawmakers.

While the benefit of using insider information to benefit one’s wealth may not be seen as wrong by some lawmakers who attempt to scorn at the suspicion from the press and public, since no one can truly link this possibility directly with the subsequent action of the lawmakers in buying stocks and bonds, it is still imperative that lawmakers play by the rule and or stay above board. It is important that lawmakers are not found to be abusing power by using political intelligence or insider information to amass wealth at the expense of the public they have sworn to protect. The duties of congressional lawmakers call for the utmost integrity in men and women. To fail to appreciate this reality, to scorn at an effort to expose this illegality among congressional lawmakers and their staff, constitute disservice to the process of lawmaking. Further, it is shameful when the public has to call on our lawmakers to play by the same rule that the public are called to play by or uphold. That is why Steve Kroft’s investigative reporting on CBS 60 Minutes last Sunday deserves the highest journalism award in the country. CBS 60 Minute and Steve Kroft deserve the 2011 Peabody award for integrity reporting by getting the wheels turning in congress over the Stock Act.

To maintain that there is no insider trading information being used by congressional lawmakers and that all these are insinuations and unproven, is to fail to appreciate the concerns in the CBS 60 minute expose. No one is attempting to impinge on the integrity of our congressional lawmakers; however, the actions taken by some lawmakers just before a bill is passed into law regarding stocks’ and bonds’ purchases as exposed on the program are too close for comfort and probably, disconcerting. The fact that an outside body had to delve into lawmakers action regarding a bill that has been allowed to languish in congress and to draw imperatives regarding why the bill is allowed to die or be dying in congress, says a million about congressional lawmaking. Figuratively, can the public imagine how many bills that could have done the people and our democracy good that have been allowed to die in committees because our lawmakers are somehow benefiting from the death, or perceive the bill as inconsequential for the time being?

Fast forward today, there is the jobs’ bill that President Obama has been hammering that congress passes so that unemployed Americans can get jobs; is it possible that some congressional lawmakers are failing to pass this bill, because they are benefiting from not doing so? Can congressional lawmakers be cheating on the unemployed, the same way a few of them have cheated on their spouses, apologize in press conferences, reconciled and hopefully repented? There is no association of guilt here, however, what many unemployed are saying is that congress and those lawmakers who have chosen not to support the jobs’ bill, are cheating on the unemployed. They are using the privilege of their office to deny what is rightly essential to better the lives of millions of Americans.

Back to the Stock Act and the inquisition by many that: Is it possible that congressional lawmakers have been underhandedly using political intelligence to better their financial bottom-line? Have our lawmakers been using the first-to-know privilege to buy lands in anticipation that a federal road will pass through it so they can make a windfall? Have our lawmakers been buying stocks and bonds a night before the passing of a relevant bill and off-loading them about two weeks later with some handsome returns? We all hope these are not true. Having first had information regarding what a bill can do to trading on Wall Street can hypothetically benefit those who have that information in the course of their duties or work. Acting on this information to unduly benefit the lawmakers is unfair and unacceptable to the public, period!

Seeing first hand how “good people” have been sent to gallows for using insider information to better their financial returns is alarming. Asking that congressmen do not succumb to the same temptation is in order for transparent governance. The public finds it unfortunate that many lawmakers, some of them who have once scorned at the Stock Act, are now falling over each other to co-sponsor the bill. A bill that only had nine sponsors a couple of year ago, now has over one hundred and thirty-eight co-sponsors barely a week after the CBS 60 Minute expose on the use of political intelligence to amass wealth among congressional lawmakers and their staff. If there were things to expect from our lawmakers, isn’t it the integrity to act even before we call them to do so on a bill that impacts the welfare of everyone? Where there is a bill that addresses the issues of fairness, should it take 60 Minutes to call our congressional lawmakers to do the right thing?

Many of us are loss for words at this time. What we now expect are as follows:

  • That the Stock Act is passed before the end of this year and penalty made retroactive, if possible;
  • Congress passes a law that congressional ethics board inculcate into its books criminal penalty for using political intelligence to financially benefit lawmakers;
  • Congress makes the bane of lawmaking a sifting system that highlight the potential pitfalls for exploitation of parliamentary process for private benefit or gains by lawmakers; and, insist that associated actions by lawmakers on financial and trading issues be left in a trust; and,
  • The earthy, open-ended process in parliamentary committee deliberations be scrutinized and evaluated constantly for conflict of interest by committee members or congressional lawmakers.

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