The Business Insider’s Henry Blodget gets right to the point in The Congress Insider Trading Scandal Is Outrageous.
You cannot read the description of the personal stock trading allegedly conducted by Rep. Spencer Bachus and other members of Congress during the financial crisis and conclude anything other than the following:
Our government is completely corrupt.
Yes, this behavior may be technically legal, because of an absurd loophole that makes insider-trading rules not apply to Congress.
Yes, this behavior may be widespread on Capitol Hill.
But there is no universe in which a reasonable person would consider this behavior ethical or okay. And for the 300+ million Americans who aren’t members of Congress, it would be just plain illegal
My, my! I’m not sure which is more outrageous: insider trading by Congressmen during the financial meltdown, or the fact that insider trading by Congressmen is legal. Want details? We’ve got plenty of those. Henry references Peter Schweizer’s book Throw Them All Out.
According to a new book called Throw Them All Out by Peter Schweizer, as relayed by Dave Weigel at Slate, Rep. Bachus made more than 40 trades in his personal account in the summer and fall of 2008, in the early months of the financial crisis.
Weigel quotes from Schweizer’s book.
On the evening of September 18, at 7 p.m., Bachus received [a] private briefing for congressional leaders by Hank Paulson and Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke about the current state of the economy. They sat around a long table in the office of Nancy Pelosi, then the Speaker of the House. These briefings were secretive. Often, cell phones and Blackberrys had to be surrendered outside the room to avoid leaks.
As Paulson recounts, “Ben [Bernanke] emphasized how the financial crisis could spill into the real economy. As stocks dropped perhaps a further 20 percent, General Motors would go bankrupt, and unemployment would rise . . . if we did nothing.” The members of Congress around the table were, in Paulson’s words, “ashen-faced.”
Bernanke continued, “It is a matter of days before there is a meltdown in the global financial system.” Bachus was among those who spoke. According to Paulson, he suggested recapitalizing the banks by buying shares.
The meeting broke up. The next day, September 19, Congressman Bachus bought contract options on Proshares Ultra-Short QQQ, an index fund that seeks results that are 200% of the inverse of the Nasdaq 100 index. In other words, he was shorting the market. It was an inexpensive way to bet that the market would fall. He bought options for $7,846 on a day when the Dow Jones Industrial Average opened at 8,604. A few days later, on September 23, after the market had indeed fallen, he sold the options for over $13,000 and nearly doubled his money.
Lest you think that only Bachus was involved, Blodget also mentions John Kerry and Dick Durban. 60 Minutes interviewed Schweizer on November 13th. Here’s part of that report.
When Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and other lawmakers wouldn’t answer Steve Kroft’s questions, he headed to Washington to get some answers about their stock trades.
Go for it Steve!
Most former congressmen and senators manage to leave Washington – if they ever leave Washington – with more money in their pockets than they had when they arrived, and as you are about to see, the biggest challenge is often avoiding temptation.
Peter Schweizer: This is a venture opportunity. This is an opportunity to leverage your position in public service and use that position to enrich yourself, your friends, and your family.
Peter Schweizer is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford University. A year ago he began working on a book about soft corruption in Washington with a team of eight student researchers, who reviewed financial disclosure records. It became a jumping off point for our own story, and we have independently verified the material we’ve used.
Schweizer says he wanted to know why some congressmen and senators managed to accumulate significant wealth beyond their salaries, and proved particularly adept at buying and selling stocks.
Schweizer: There are all sorts of forms of honest grafts that congressmen engage in that allow them to become very, very wealthy. So it’s not illegal, but I think it’s highly unethical, I think it’s highly offensive, and wrong.
Steve Kroft: What do you mean honest graft?
Schweizer: For example insider trading on the stock market. If you are a member of Congress, those laws are deemed not to apply.
Kroft: So congressman get a pass on insider trading?
Schweizer: They do. The fact is, if you sit on a healthcare committee and you know that Medicare, for example, is considering not reimbursing for a certain drug that’s market moving information. And if you can trade stock on– off of that information and do so legally, that’s a great profit making opportunity. And that sort of behavior goes on.
Kroft: Why does Congress get a pass on this?
Schweizer: It’s really the way the rules have been defined. And the people who make the rules are the political class in Washington. And they’ve conveniently written them in such a way that they don’t apply to themselves.
I have searched for just the right response to this stuff, and I think I found it in something Matt Taibbi said while talking about the meaning of the Occupy movement.
We’re all born wanting the freedom to imagine a better and more beautiful future. Modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. We see 10 million commercials a day, and every day is the same life-killing chase for money, money and more money; the only thing that changes from minute to minute is that every tick of the clock brings with it another space-age vendor dreaming up some new way to try to sell you something or reach into your pocket. The relentless sameness of the two-party political system is beginning to feel like a Jacob’s Ladder nightmare with no end; we’re entering another turn on the four-year merry-go-round, and the thought of having to try to get excited about yet another minor quadrennial shift in the direction of one or the other pole of alienating corporate full-of-shitness is enough to make anyone want to smash his own hand flat with a hammer…
People don’t know exactly what they want, but as one friend of mine put it, they know one thing: FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different: a different life, with different values, or at least a chance at different values.