by Patrick Henningsen
The whole concept of avoiding ‘conflicts of interest’ is a virtue now consigned to history in the United States.
Remember the good old days, when the good men and women of America got into politics to help serve their country, and not for the money?
Imagine if you were able to pass a law that would regulate your own behavior and ultimately define the consequences of that behavior. That’s what all politicians in Washington DC do on a regular basis.
When it comes to regulating their investments whilst in office, they are able to pass laws that allow them to use special foreknowledge (that only lawmakers and government regulators have) for personal gain.
It’s all about finding that golden loophole. Once upon a time it was called “insider trading” … hardly a crime on Wall Street anymore (props to Goldman Sachs), and neither in Washington DC, or so it seems, according to the President and his legislative branch.
Now we know how hard it is to be a politician these days. Many of you genuinely feel that there should be some additional value-added perks to your job as a public servant. After all, our elected officials deserve some extra compensation for shunning the public sector and offering their incredible talents for the public good, right?
While tragic events in Boston are dominating the national media this week, US President Barack Obama quietly signed a bill, and one which passed rather swiftly through Congress we might add … it’s a bill that prevents key financial disclosure forms filed by senior governmental employees from being posted online. In a rare display of cross-party cooperation, both sides of the aisle seemed happy to approve (surprise, surprise) by unanimous consent.
This latest bill specifically alters the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or “STOCK Act”, which, when it was originally drafted was intended to be a law designed to combat insider trading on Capitol Hill – until our elected officials got their teeth into it that is.
This is how the criminals usually work – quietly and in secret: the bill passed both House and Senate chambers on a voice vote (where lawmakers’ names are not recorded). Both chambers cleared the legislation in near record time by Washington DC standards – taking only ten seconds in the Senate and 14 seconds in the House to pass.
According to the report below, “The bill represents a major blow to government transparency”. It certainly does and then some, but more than anything it just makes it a lot easier to get richer from a career in politics.
This is really the sort of law you would expect to be passed in a corrupt banana republic, with a fascist dictator presiding over a government full of self-interested industrialists. So is this the new America?
Obama signing a bill like this with the hyper-sonic, complete backing of both chambers of government spells out everything that is wrong with American government today and why so few people trust anyone who calls themselves a politician or government staffer. It’s also a prime example as to why so many Americans have all but given up on the political process, almost forced to submit to its systemic corruption.
This is one of the ways in which our long-serving Congressmen/women, Senators, esteemed residents and staff in the White House are able the amass such huge fortunes during their glorious political careers- by simply gaming the system.
One set of rules for the people, and another set of rules for our “leaders”.
It does not appear that they can actually be trusted to make decisions that govern political life.
STOCK Act: President Obama Signs Bill That Would Kill Government Transparency Database
Keeping tabs of financial conflicts of interest on Capitol Hill just got more difficult. On Tuesday, President Obama signed a bill passed by Congress that would prevent financial disclosure forms filed by senior governmental employees from being posted online.
Washington DC politicians can breathe easier now that Obama has better enabled insider trading for them.
The bill passed both the House of Representative and the Senate on a voice vote. In a voice vote, now members of Congress’s votes are not recorded. The Senate and House both cleared the legislation by unanimous consent, taking only ten seconds in the Senate and 14 seconds in the House of consideration to pass. The bill represents a major blow to government transparency, according to government watchdog groups.
The bill modifies the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, a law passed to combat insider trading. The bill effectively repeals a provision that requires financial disclosure forms to posted online into a searchable database in order to be easily assessed. Proponents of repealing the measure argued that it would increase the risk of identify theft and other crimes against disclosures as well as security concerns for the government.
But such disclosure forms are technically already available to the public. Without the provision, the forms must be requested individually from government agencies. The Center for Responsive Politics and the Sunlight Foundation, two pro-government transparency organizations harshly criticized the bill. Lisa Rosenberg of the Sunlight Foundation said of the move, “The result: More corruption and less trust in government.”
Dan Auble of the Center for Responsive Politics said of the bill,
Without the provisions, the STOCK act is made toothless. Insider trading by members of Congress and federal employees is still prohibited, but the ability of watchdog groups to verify that Congress is following its own rules is severely limited because these records could still be filed on paper — an unacceptably outdated practice that limits the public’s access.
This is not true disclosure.
The bill does not completely gut the STOCK Act. Federal workers would still be required to report securities trades over a $1,000 threshold within 45 days and make them available to the public. The president, vice president, members of Congress, candidates for Congress, Cabinet members, and deputy secretaries are still required to post financial transactions online. However the searchable database was killed along with the requirements that federal employees post transactions.
However the searchable database was considered by some to be the most effective part of the act. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility Ethics in Washington said that, “by getting rid of the online disclosure they get rid of the only effective part. It’s almost a useless act.”
Rather than reforming the act to address privacy concerns, Congress just decided to get rid of those requirements entirely. The approach is known as “security through obscurity,” the idea being that by making the system difficult, people who want to engage in malicious acts will be discouraged from accessing the information. The drawbacks of such a system are immediately obvious, as a criminal simply needs to be dedicated enough to go through the system in order to gain the information they desire.
The STOCK Act has already been criticized for being incomplete. In 2012, a loophole in the STOCK Act was discovered that could have allowed family members of lawmakers to still profit from inside information, which was promptly corrected. No word if they will fix other efforts at weakening the act soon.
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