The Congressional Balancing Act

2 | By Shah Gilani

There’s a ton of “insight” to be meted out about what’s going on in the market. You’ve heard most of it from me, and everybody else. But today and tomorrow will be all about being an insider at the meetings going on over in Europe.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at those meetings…

What we couldn’t do with a little “inside information!”

But we can’t be there, and besides, that would be insider trading, wouldn’t it?

So, we’ll all just have to stay glued to CNBC and Bloomberg to see what the future holds for us all.

Speaking of trading on inside information…

Have you heard about the hearings up on Capitol Hill?

Oh yeah, there’s been serious discussions in Congress – by Congressmen and women -about reports of insider trading being conducted by privilege insiders, namely, some of their own.

It seems our always honest, always on-top-of-it, always looking-out-for-themselves Congressional leaders and their rank (and I do mean rank) and file are at it again, proving that although their net worth to the public may be zero, their access to non-public information is priceless.

While privately expressing indignation that their day trading jobs (conducted simultaneously with their legislative duties, so as not to distract them from either pursuit) should ever be subject to public scrutiny, lawmakers nonetheless held hearings about their access to inside information.

I guess to let Americans know that they are not crooks.

Last week, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs convened a get-together to ask each other if they knew anything about it and what to do about it, if it was true.

Nothing really happened.

Kind of like the deficit reduction talks, they decided to talk more about it in the future, although they weren’t sure there was anything that needed fixing.

After all, one witness, Indiana University law professor Donna Nagy, told the Committee that Congressional insider trading was subject to anti-fraud provisions in federal securities laws, as well as federal mail and wire fraud statutes. In that case, they don’t need to change anything; the Securities and Exchange Commission is on the case.

And thank goodness for that. I mean, thank goodness the Senate has no power over the SEC, other than to vote on their budget and on their chairman.

Not that they would ever threaten to withhold money from the powerless, oops, I mean powerful, regulatory body to subjugate them to their will again… because they just threatened that recently (more on that one another time). But then again, that was probably just part of their deficit reduction talks…

No, there’s no undue influence to worry about in our government, with all its checks (and I’m not talking about payoff checks) and balances.

Thankfully, because we have such a great balance in Congress, after the Senate hearings last week the House held its own little “social” just two days ago.

The subject – believe it or not – was insider trading by Congress and their aides.

There the balancing act over at the House was really in evidence. Really, imagine balancing the talks about insider trading in Congress when Spencer Bachus, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee presiding over the investment club meeting, is one of the most egregious of the alleged insider traders.

(I only use “alleged” because I like that word, it sounds so lawyerly, and I am talking about our lawmakers, don’t you know.)

As far as Rep. Bachus, you just have to love his comment in the Wall Street Journal recently about the insider trading charges (oops, I mean discussions), when pinned to the mat about his excessive and very “timely” options trades conducted immediately after coming out of closed-door emergency meetings with the Treasury Secretary and Fed Chairman back in 2008.

He said, “More lawmakers should invest in the markets to better understand them.”

Too bad he and the rest of Congress didn’t invest all their net worth in mortgage-backed securities right before the crash, and if they had anything left, in MF Global.

But I digress.

Oh, you want me to mention that Jon Corzine, former Senator from New Jersey, will be visiting his old chambers today to tell his Senate buddies how not to invest by leveraging segregated customer funds in high-flying – make that high-yielding – bonds issued by low-flying PIIGS? That will be some good theater.

Oh, I’m still digressing.

Allow me to restore my sense of “balance.”

I was talking about how the House hearings were being conducted by day-trading master Bachus. But in all fairness to him, you need to know that he was joined on the Committee by Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Congressman who received shares of stock he never paid for, for a favor he did in his official capacity.

It’s not insider trading if you don’t pay for something, right?

Back to my balancing act. The Senate committee looking into insider trading had two committee members who are equity-trading buffs.

Sen. Claire McCaskill nicely timed a half-million-dollar trade in Berkshire Hathaway right as the Big Bailout was signed, out of which Mr. Buffett’s (he of not-so-clean hands) Berkshire was the recipient of some $90 billion, in one form or another.

And that Sen. Tom Carper, also on the committee, was a rabid trader of healthcare stocks during the healthcare debate in Congress.

Not that that means anything, does it?

No, it’s all about balance in Congress.

Thank heaven, if there is one, that we elected these people.


P.S. Thanks for being a (big) part of Wall Street Insights & Indictments. The feedback I get from my readers is tremendously valuable. I need you to tell me when you “get” what I’m throwing out there… and, even more importantly, I want to know when you think I’m dead wrong. That’s why I encourage you – today – to share your own thoughts on this story. Just go to now to cast your vote.

2 Responses to The Congressional Balancing Act

  1. Todd says:

    Shah Gilani–
    I’ve read several of your e-mail up-dates and I like the way you think. Your insight combined with a very rare common sense actually put you in the top 1%.
    Please keep up your straight forward truthful commentary.

  2. Veronica says:

    thank you so much for this newsletter – I believe this is the most useful information out there – can’t believe this stuff is allowed to happen
    – human beings can be completely shameless – now we have to find a way to STOP all this !!

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