Log in
updated 2:54 PM CDT, Jul 28, 2018

FlynnsHarp logo 042016

Baird enjoying growing fuss over his STOCK Act

Brian Baird spent half of his 12 years in Congress in a frustrated, and futile, effort to gather support for his legislation to make it illegal for lawmakers to engage in the kind of financial transactions that those in the real world know as Insider Trading and for which they can be sent to jail. He and one or two supporters offered it each session but couldn’t even get a committee hearing.

But Baird was able to look on with satisfaction when, a year after he decided to focus on family and not run for re-election, a late-2011 program on CBS' "60 Minutes" brought national attention to his idea and coined the phrase "Honest graft," meaning it was graft but it wasn't illegal. The program exposed how members of Congress and their staff traded stocks based on nonpublic information to which they had exclusive access.

Lawmakers by the dozens scurried like frightened rats to get aboard as supporters amid the public outcry the news program sparked and so in April of 2012, the measure titled the STOCK Act (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) was passed to finally bar members of Congress from doing stock transactions in areas they regulate.

Now Baird is watching with some amusement because, since Republican congressional leaders went out of their way in 2012 to quickly pass legislation extending the law to the president and vice president and those who worked for them, President-elect Donald Trump would be covered by the law. So he and his minions are seeking to exempt him from the law.

Newt Gingrich, explaining why ethics laws shouldn’t apply to Trump, even offered the view: "We've never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don't work…We're going to have to think up a whole new approach." He suggested that Congress change ethics laws so Trump can avoid any conflicts of interest that his global business empire may pose.

And Trump himself has said he is not subject to laws relating to conflict of interest.

Maybe so. But maybe not, since the Republicans who now control both houses of Congress may not wish to take early action on something that would allow critics the opportunity to point to the GOP lawmakers as being the lap dogs of the President. In other words, if they rolled over on command on the issue of ethics, what commands could they object to?

And Walter Shaub, director of the federal Office of Government Ethics (OGE), has issued a memo providing official guidance to Congress on the issue. His letter explained: “The Stock Act bars the President, the Vice President, and all executive branch employees from: using nonpublic information for private profit; engaging in insider trading; or intentionally influencing an employment decision or practice of a private entity solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation.”

But the President names the OGE director so once Trump moves into the Oval Office, it might be a good bet that Shaub will be replaced and that his successor will offer a quite different view.

Baird served six terms from Washington’s Third Congressional District before deciding in 2010 that his young family (he and his wife, Rachel Nugent’s, twin boys were 4 years old at the time), was more important than his battles in Congress. There was talk of his being targeted by the GOP if he had sought re-election, even though in his last four re-elections, none of his opponents could muster even 40 percent of the vote.

He says that while his family was the key reason he decided not to run again in 2010, other reasons included frustration over “the growing extremism and intransigence of many in the Republican party” and the “Democratic leadership showing little if any understanding of the concerns for centrist members from swing districts.”

Baird, who gained a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Wyoming after graduating from the University of Utah, says of the emerging focus on the STOCK Act and its relevance to Trump:  “I'm just glad people are standing up for the bill now and trying to make sure it has the desired impact.”

But he finds it humorous that the growing attention to the law has brought a number of representatives and Senators who are being quoted about the brewing controversy as Trump’s inauguration nears and describing themselves as author of the law.

“As they say, success has many parents, even if they were nowhere near the conception,” Baird mused in an email to me.

The interviews by CBS reporter Steve Croft with then-House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his unexpected questions making Boehner look like someone hiding from the truth and Pelosi like someone too incompetent to even come across as thinking, should be part of every high school government class. The topic of the lecture in which the You Tube interviews were featured could be titled: “Who elects these people?”

The interviews are now difficult to find on You Tube because you have to subscribe to “60 Minutes.” Too bad.

The controversy over the STOCK Act and the soon-to-be Trump Administration isn’t currently getting a major focus from the media.

But a budding controversy could become a political brouhaha once a new president takes an action that would be illegal under the act.

Continue reading
  1779 Hits
  0 Comments
1779 Hits
0 Comments

Reflections: Brexit, out-of-touch High Court ruling, talk of 28th Amendment

It was well over a year ago that my brother, a retired Spokane small-business owner, began telling me, in support of the Donald Trump phenomenon, “Mike, you don’t understand, the silent majority is roaring.” My response was always, “I hear the roar, but it’s a minority made up of those unsettled by the murky mix of terrorism and immigration policies and angered by their lack of influence, or even contact, with the establishment.”

Then came last week’s Brexit vote, where the English version of folks I described turned out to be the majority, leaving establishment leaders of both major parties in this country to ponder whether what’s at stake is a desire to throw out the system rather than merely overturn particular politicians or policies. And what that means come November.

Or for the future. Thus perhaps an appropriate time to ponder questions as Independence Day approaches

Now a week following the blow to the U.K. comes a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court almost certain to fuel anger at the established order, the court making it harder to prosecute public officials for corruption by basically saying it’s ok for “the system” to include paying elected officials to influence their decisions.

At issue was the case of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who was convicted by a lower court of using his office to help a businessman who had provided McDonnell and his wife with luxury products, loans and vacations worth more than $175,000 when Mr. McDonnell was governor.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the court, narrowed the definition of what sort of conduct can serve as the basis of a corruption prosecution. He wrote that “routine political courtesies like arranging meetings or urging underlings to consider a matter generally, even when the people seeking those favors give the public officials gifts or money,” do not represent corruption.

The alternative to the new limits, Roberts wrote, would be to criminalize routine political behavior. “Conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf and include them in events all the time,” he wrote. All the time! Isn’t that the problem?

By now readers of this column have likely concluded that the usual focus on people, companies and issues that relate the Northwest is being upstaged to Harp about some personal thoughts on an issue that impacts us in this region, but that transcends us.

Fodder for thought following Brexit, for those who care to think, is offered by The Los Angeles Times‘ Vincent Bevins: “Since the 1980s the elites in rich countries have overplayed their hand, taking all the gains for themselves and just covering their ears when anyone else talks, and now they are watching in horror as voters revolt.”

It has to be hoped that the revolt is aimed at reconstructing rather than destructing the Democratic process. But that may not be certain.

A quote from author and MSNBC commentator Chris Hayes is getting attention on social media in the wake of the Brexit vote.

“The mechanism that western citizens are expected to use to express and rectify dissatisfaction – elections – has largely ceased to serve any correction function. When Democracy is preserved only in form, structured to change little to nothing about power distribution, people naturally seek alternatives for the redress of their grievances, particularly when they suffer.”

Coincident with the post-Brexit analysis have come a couple of group emails in which I was included, both suggesting that the idea of change by the ballot isn’t being totally abandoned. Both related to a focus on the 28th amendment to the U.S. constitution and both widely popular but not yet widely promoted.

The first relates to ongoing discussion about an amendment to overturn Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that held political expenditures by corporations could not be limited.

Polls show the efforts for a 28th Amendment to overturn Citizens United is supported by more than 75 percent of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents and sixteen states have enacted 28th Amendment resolutions.

The other idea gathering support as a proposed 28th amendment: "Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States."

It strikes me that this idea could generate some positive action from voters by, between now and the November General Election, insisting every member of Congress on the ballot, as well as every state legislator, commit to voting in favor of the constitutional change next year. Or bite the bullet as voters and vote for the opponent, regardless of ideological compatability.

There are examples of the manner in which a fed-up public can bring a positive focus to their anger and bring about beneficial change within the system.

 

One such example was actually the result of an idea of someone from inside “the system,” then-Washington congressman Brian Baird, who during the last three of his six terms as the representative from the state’s third district sought to gather support in Congress for what he called the “Stock Act.”

 

Baird sought to prevent members of Congress from doing stock transactions in areas they regulate, in essence, prohibiting their investing in a manner that those in the real world call Insider Trading.

 

I wrote about it in a November, 2011, column after a program on CBS’ “60 Minutes” brought national attention to Baird’s idea with a program titled “Honest graft.”

 

For ordinary citizens, reaction to Baird's proposal would be a laughable "well, of course." But in a place whose mantra is "the rules we make for you don't apply to us," seeking to force action by the lawmakers on one small, self-imposed ethical constraint could become a rallying point for a fed-up public.

 

The thrust of the CBS segment was that lawmakers often made stock purchases and trades in the very fields they regulate. While ordinary citizens could be jailed for engaging in the kind of investment shenanigans that those in Congress involve themselves in, there's wasn’t even an ethical concern among lawmakers.

 

Reporter Steve Croft questioned then-House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi at their respective news conferences. And the ineptitude with which both Boehner and Pelosi tried to answer Croft's questions about whether their investment practices were at least conflicts of interest, the thought that had to occur was "Who elects these people?" The answer, unfortunately, is people like us elect them. And both have continued to be elected. Shame on us. And so maybe a revolt wouldn’t be that bad.

 

As a result of the outcry following the program and You Tube pieces on the congressional leaders’ confused responses, the Stock Act was passed overwhelmingly in the spring of 2012 with what observers described as “vulnerable congressmen” at the forefront of supporters. So now Members of Congress and employees of Congress are prohibited from using private information derived from their official positions for personal benefit, and for other purposes.

 

Baird had already retired by then, having decided not to seek a seventh term, thus exemplifying one of the concerns about the future of the Democracy as currently operating: The Nancy Pelosis remain in office and the Brian Bairds decide to leave.

 

 



Continue reading
  1842 Hits
  0 Comments
1842 Hits
0 Comments

Ex-congressman Baird's ethics quest could gain national focus after 60 Minutes probe

Former Washington Congressman Brian Baird's long quest to bring a small note of integrity to the dysfunctional legislative body from which he retired a year ago has finally, with a 60 Minutes episode titled "Honest Graft," gotten a bit of national visibility for an idea whose time has long since come.

 

And it's possible that, as irate citizens across the country seek ways to express their frustration at the implications of the abject failure of the so-called supercommittee to come up with any agreement, Baird's idea may become a focal point for citizen action.

 

During the last three of his six terms representing the state's 3rd District, Democrat Baird sought unsuccessfully to pass, or even just gather support for, what he called the Stock Act. It would have barred members of Congress from doing stock transactions in areas they regulate, in essence, prohibiting their investing in a manner that those in the real world call Insider Trading.

 

For ordinary citizens, reaction to Baird's proposal would be a laughable "well, of course." But in a place whose mantra is "the rules we make for you don't apply to us," seeking to force action by the lawmakers on one small, self-imposed ethical constraint could become a rallying point for a fed-up public.

 

The thrust of the CBS segment that aired this month is that lawmakers often do make stock purchases and trades in the very fields they regulate. While ordinary citizens could be jailed for engaging in the kind of investment shenanigans that those in Congress involve themselves in, there's not even an ethical concern among lawmakers.

 

Baird may be able to gain far more visibility as a former lawmaker than he could as a member of Congress and the hope has to be that this first shot across the bow of Congress will echo down the months of the coming election year.

 

And a sure way to take this worthwhile campaign viral is to share in every possible social-media fashion 60 Minutes reporter Steve Croft's questioning of current House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi at their respective news conferences.

 

For viewers of the ineptitude with which both Boehner and Pelosi tried to answer Croft's questions about whether their investment practices were at least conflicts of interest, the thought that had to occur was "Who elects these people?" The answer, unfortunately, is people like us elect them. Shame on us.

 

Boehner, for example, bought a bunch of health-care-related stock during the health-care reform debate of 2009. And when Boehner's efforts to kill the so called "public option" succeeded, those stocks skyrocketed.

 

Pelosi, meanwhile, had gotten in on a series of lucrative stock Initial Public Offerings. One of those involved an enormous number of Visa shares that Pelosi purchased while she was working on legislation that would have hurt credit card companies. Two days after purchasing the stock at $44 a share, and after the bill was put on long-term hold, Pelosi's stock shot up to $64 a share.

 

Ideally, members of Congress will be pressed, in any news conference or appearance before business organizations or other groups in the coming election season, to explain why they fail to support the legislative concept for which Baird sought support in Congress.

 

Fortunately, Pelosi's struggles with the simple task of answering a question from the 60 Minutes reporter have become pervasive on YouTube, and should remain so down through election year as a backdrop to those questions posed to members of Congress seeking to stay in office. It should be watched by millions, and shared with millions more.

 

At a time when we're already dealing with "pledges" from candidates for political office, a much more logical pledge to press upon candidates than a no-taxes pact is: "Will you support the current version of Stock Act legislation in the House next year?"

 

And no candidate forsaking Congress for a run for state office should escape being forced to explain to their hoped-for statewide constituency why they lacked an interest in imposing ethical conduct at the most basic level on their fellow lawmakers and themselves by supporting Baird's efforts.

 

In this state, that would mean the question would be posed to Rep. Jay Inslee, who is running for governor. And why shouldn't he be pressed to answer that question? Hopefully, it will be posed early on in the campaign. 

 

Baird's 3rd District successor, Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler, announced earlier this month that she is signing on as a co-sponsor of a bill similar to Baird's plan, this one called "Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act," sponsored by Minnesota Democrat Timothy Welz.

 

A total of 92 lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors, including Washington Democrats Rick Larsen and Jim McDermott, though not Inslee.

 

But those wise in the way Congress works, or more accurately doesn't work, will note that the bill was assigned by House Leadership to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, about as distant from a subcommittee that has anything to do with ethics, finances or investments as they could get.

 

Howard Schultz' quixotic appeal to CEOs to halt donations to re-election campaigns of members of Congress because of their inability to progress beyond stalemate is a bit impractical because only candidates that CEO types contribute to would be impacted. Candidates supported by groups like unions and trial attorneys would actually benefit if Schultz' call drew CEO response.

 

But a call for denying donations to any member of Congress who doesn't pledge to support the specific legislation that Baird long championed might have a whole different outcome in terms of response from those seeking to remain in Congress. And since the demand for such a pledge would be coming from Democrat and Republican voters alike, it might be the seed that could grow into a renewed sense that there are things that those from all parts of the political spectrum can actually agree upon.

 

And it would thus represent a small step toward acceptability for a legislative body that badly needs to be viewed by the American public as not just trustworthy, but simply relevant.

 

Continue reading
  1228 Hits
  0 Comments
1228 Hits
0 Comments

52°F

Seattle

Mostly Cloudy

Humidity: 63%

Wind: 14 mph

  • 24 Mar 2016 52°F 42°F
  • 25 Mar 2016 54°F 40°F
Banner 468 x 60 px