Sunday, April 14, 2013

Death Penalty For Crooked Congressmen And Their Crooked Staffs? Nooooooo... Never


Capitol Hill doesn't need weaker ethics laws; it needs much stronger ethics laws. If it was up to me, elected officials and their staffers would be a special category of defendant, different from ordinary people. Any crimes they commit are crimes against the trust society has placed on them. So... I don't want to offend all my friends who hate the death penalty but... a congressman or high-ranking bureaucrat who breaks the law should be shot-- or whatever the humane way is for disposing of the trash is. Don't worry... Congress is moving in the other direction.

You know how they say "nothing ever gets done" in the Senate? When it comes to protecting their own asses, that's the furthest truism from the truth on God's green earth. Thursday night Stand With Rand wasn't filibustering and none of the obstructionists were around to protest a unanimous consent decision to considerably scale back financial disclosure requirements that were mandated by the STOCK Act last year. And, holy moley, the exact same bill flew through the House Friday night without so much as a roll call-- just a voice vote to scale back a itsy bitsy teeny weenie piece of ethics legislation holding the gang of criminals in Washington to some standard of ethical behavior. in regard to insider trading. Before the Senate vote Friday, the Sunlight Foundation, bane of the criminal gangs, running DC, explains why what Congress just did is a direct assault on American taxpayers.
The bill enacted last year would require already public financial disclosures of senior congressional and executive branch officials to be put online in order to prevent or root out insider trading. There were concerns that some provisions of the bill were overbroad and would put some government employees at risk. Rather than craft narrow exemptions, or even delay implementation until proper protections could be created, the Senate decided instead to exclude legislative and executive staffers from the online disclosure requirements.

The sweeping exemption goes even farther than critics of the disclosure requirements requested. For those to whom online disclosure would still apply (the president, vice president, members of Congress, congressional candidates and individuals subject to Senate confirmation) the Senate bill made electronic filing of the information optional and struck the requirement that online information be searchable, sortable and downloadable, making even the disclosures that remain in the bill tepid and relatively unusable.

Not only does the change undermine the intent of the original bill to ensure government insiders are not profiting from non-public information (if anyone thinks high level congressional staffers don’t have as much or more insider information than their bosses, they should spend some time on Capitol Hill) but it sets an extraordinarily dangerous precedent suggesting that any risks stem not from information being public but from public information being online.

Are we going to return to the days when the public can use the Internet to research everything except what their government is doing? Will Congress, in its twisted wisdom, decide that information is public if journalists, academics, advocates and citizens are forced to dig through file cabinets in basements in Washington, DC to find it? And does anyone think that makes us safer?

As my colleague Tom Lee noted, “This approach is known as ‘security through obscurity.’ Essentially, the idea is that rather than fixing a system's flaws, you can just make the system opaque or unusable or unpopular enough that those flaws never surface.” It doesn’t make anyone any safer. If a criminal wants the public information badly enough, he will jump through whatever hurdles are created in order to get it. That’s why last October we advocated that Congress take the months remaining before the bill was to go into effect to carve out exceptions for individuals in sensitive jobs. That would actually make them safer than hoping that no one would bother to look for the information if it is on paper instead of online.

Security through obscurity as a justification to repeal the transparency provisions of the STOCK Act starts us down a slippery slope where any government action or information could be taken offline in the name of safety. Campaign contributions made public on the FEC’s website? Take them offline. Lobbyist disclosure reports made public on the sites of the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate? Put them in file cabinets. Congressional hearings webcast by Committees? Take the cameras out of the room.

It is possible that the Senate’s overreaction could have been avoided if anyone had the chance to read the bill. According to Roll Call, “neither the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee nor its House counterpart seemed to have specifics on what was in the works, a further indication that the matter was being handled at the leadership level in each chamber.” The bill, S. 716, was voted on by unanimous consent last night shortly after it was introduced by Senator Reid, and apparently after many members went home for the weekend. The bill was not available to the public on the Library of Congress website until after the vote.

It would be nice to think that the House, always more tech savvy than the Senate, would be less willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater and seek a more nuanced solution. But odds are that body too will take a vote in favor of obscurity, probably today. The result: More corruption and less trust in government.
Friday night no one demanded a roll call so that Members of the House would be on record voting for or against this assault. Hoyer and Cantor put their heads together, Cantor brought it up and-- BOOM!-- it was all over before most Members even knew what had happened. It should be recalled that Cantor, who was caught personally shorting U.S. Treasury bonds for his own profit, was responsible for inserting a sneaky loophole into the STOCK Act originally, exempting the wives of congressmembers from illegal trading. Democracy!

UPDATE: No One Was There

I've been asking Members why they didn't demand a roll call. No one knew what I was talking about. No one knew the vote was coming. No one knew the vote had come up. The House had just finished their last votes and most Members were rushing to the airports to catch planes back to their districts-- or, like Boehner, were off to their favorite bars and whorehouses. No one knew the STOCK Act they had helped pass had been watered down Friday night. As it turns out, when the bill passed in a voice vote-- "unanimously"-- only two of the most corrupt Members of Congress in history, Hoyer and Cantor, were on the floor. It passed by a voice vote of two. Like I said... Democracy!



At 9:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Start with stronger ethics to regulate CAMPAIGNS! Candidates shouldn't be able to live off of running for office. Sure, it's legal - but is it right? When they do that, it sets them up to skirt ethics in office and to keep that war chest going cause they get used to the perks.

At 1:18 AM, Blogger John said...

Possible logical&ethical legislation for a cure to the rot in DC is frustratingly obvious. BUT it is dependent on the rotten legislating against themselves.

It is more likely that all the human-generated CO2 emitted into the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution would spontaneously reassemble into primordial coal, gas and petroleum resources. (2nd Law - NOT 2nd Amendment - joke.)

John Puma

At 7:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't the House require a quorum to pass legislation? Wouldn't a bill passed by two members be unconstitutional?

At 8:06 AM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

You would think so, wouldn't you? But they have the system rigged so that the rules work for them


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