The Outstater

January 28, 2023

‘We the People’ Pays Well

“Show me a man who gets rich by being a politician, and I will show you a crook.” — Harry S Truman

HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED why so many congressmen, Republican and Democrat, are rich? Of course you have, and your best guess, depending on your disposition, is that they are either hard-working or corrupt, or hard working at being corrupt.

You will have your answer this session — maybe.

Before we get into that, please know that it is a critical question in a constitutional republic. For if we have members of our legislative branch trading favors for profit then they are no better than members of a medieval court or the cabinet of a third-world despot, a parliament of whores, as the late P.J. O’Rourke put it. For them, the constitution would be just a display in the National Archives Museum.

To start, they have made it difficult to gauge what a lawmaker is worth for regulatory purposes. The disclosure forms do not require exact values. To use an example from the watchdog group Open Secrets, a congressman might say his or her rental property is worth somewhere in a range of estimates. This provides a minimum, maximum and average value of the asset. However, to calculate net worth we must apply a formula that includes a lawmaker’s ranges of assets and ranges of liabilities.

In short, there is what the economists call a moral hazard built into the job description. The foxes are guarding the hen house.

To get a true picture, we would need a couple of private detectives and a forensic accountant. While the rest of us have to calculate our profits and losses to the penny at risk of imprisonment, congressmen in this instance can just take a stab at it. As it were and if you will, more than half the members of Congress have somehow become millionaires without having to turn over much in the way of real numbers.

Apologists will tell you that many wealthy congressmen were wealthy to start (another problem entirely). But of those, Nancy Pelosi coming to mind, some have turned out to be uncommonly good traders of stock, so uncommonly good that their trades outperform by multiples any stock index.

And the others ask us to believe they made their millions on a $174,000-a-year salary in a place with the highest cost of living in the nation by taking a sharp pencil to the family grocery budget.

OK, but here’s where you get your answer. This session, follow your congressman’s vote on a bill introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley from “Show Me” Missouri. It bars lawmakers and their spouses from owning or trading stocks while in office — period. A simple “yes” or a “no.” should be decisive.

“For too long, politicians in Washington have taken advantage of the economic system they write the rules for, turning profits for themselves at the expense of the American people.”  Hawley said this week in support for his Preventing Elected Leaders from Owning Securities and Investments Act (PELOSI). “As members of Congress, both Senators and Representatives are tasked with providing oversight of the same companies they invest in, yet they continually buy and sell stocks, outperforming the market time and again.”

The Government Accountability Office would audit member compliance with the Act. It would prevent the possibility — the practice, really — of sharing expert stock tips delivered sotto voce as a reward for favored legislation.

But as you try to determine the position of the Indiana delegation, if in fact the leadership allows the bill to get to the floor, consider that there will be multiple votes on committee advancement, amendments, alternative versions and other procedures and changes written in during a confidential markup session. Also, it may be attached to another measure of inarguable worth that demands support. And if a congressman still casts what in effect is the killing vote he or she can claim they voted for it before they voted against it. Then there’s how “stocks” and “trading” and “will” and “shall” are defined in the final language as read by a politically vetted judge.

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut so aptly observed. — tcl


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