There wasn’t even an official vote, Friday. Congress just unanimously sent the bill to Obama’s desk, as the Senate had already done the day before.
But first some background. Perhaps you are old enough to remember all the way back to March 22, 2012. That was when Congress passed what Senator Joe Lieberman called “the most significant ethics legislation in at least five years.” NPR quoted him:
“I mean, here’s a case where a problem was identified that cut directly to the public’s faith in their elected representatives. We dealt with it quickly and on a bipartisan basis in both houses of Congress.”
The “case” Lieberman mentioned was a 60 Minutes story revealing insider trading and other corruption lining the pockets of Congressmen and other people in government.
The STOCK Act was only opposed because it wasn’t strong enough. They passed a severely weakened version of the bill.
But not weak enough.
One part of the law mandated that financial disclosure statements be made available on the internet. These statements were already legally public. But the only way to access them would be to physically hunt them down from wherever they are being stored. There are around 28,000 Federal employees whose rank is high enough to warrant this kind of mandated disclosure.
The Sunlight Foundation :commented on the affair
“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… 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.”
Adding insult to injury, Congress deliberately created a loophole to allow some inefficient and difficult form of electronic filing to fulfill the intent of what remained of the law. They “struck the requirement that online information be searchable, sortable, and downloadable, making even the disclosures that remain in the bill tepid and relatively unusable.”
One of the most obvious questions that arises from the life of almost any politician is: “How did that person become so wealthy.” Naturally enough, despite the embarrassment of the 60 Minutes story, all Representatives and Senators have a vested interest in keeping the sunlight away from their finances.
One can only wonder how many other bills are passed because our government plans to repeal the law as soon as the outrage dies down.