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Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.
Ethan: I have to say, I know I have been hard on Rep. Jared Golden for his votes against Build Back Better and the stimulus, but high praise is due for his stance on banning individual stock trading by members of Congress.
Phil: Certainly this is an issue that needs to be highlighted, but let’s be sure this hot topic isn’t a solution in search of a problem. Give our readers a quick primer on the issue so we are all on the same page.
Ethan: You want the Fox News “fair and balanced” version, or the truth?
Phil: In the words of Sgt. Joe Friday, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Ethan: Dragnet? I was always more of a Hill Street Blues guy. The facts are basically that there are two bills drifting around through Congress which, to varying degrees, require members, their spouses, and children to put all stocks in a blind trust to be managed by an independent party while they serve in Washington.
Phil: A bit excessive don’t you think? It’s already illegal for members of Congress to trade on inside information, no matter where they get it, and they have heightened regulations around disclosures and fines if they don’t follow those rules.
Ethan: Sure, but the fine is only $200 for failing to disclose, and despite some pretty strong evidence, the FBI has never prosecuted anyone. Both Democrats and Republicans alike have fallen under the serious gaze of law enforcement, but no arrests.
Phil: Maybe that’s because they didn’t violate the law? To the public, the appearance of conflict is simply not the same as actual, illegal, insider trading. What you hear from a corporate executive of a company versus what you hear in a closed door party caucus can be a world apart.
Ethan: Maybe, but when a senator sits in a private briefing and is told that the pandemic is about to wreck our tourism industry, and then sells all his shares in a hotel chain (which then plummet in value), one starts to get suspicious.
Phil: As they should. But a lot of people sold stocks in the tourism industry as the pandemic began to spread around the world. And because of the disclosure laws, Sen. Richard Burr, the case you are speaking of, had to tell everyone what he did. Certainly the appearance that he went to the front of the line to protect his nest egg smells rotten to me. But the FBI investigated, found no malfeasance, and dropped the investigation.
Ethan: True, but now the Securities and Exchange Commission has picked it up again.
Phil: Look, I appreciate the sentiment behind these laws. It makes for a great headline. But the truth of the matter is that we need stronger enforcement of current laws before we decide to impose a blanket ban on everyone.
Ethan: Except, based on a Business Insider investigation, over 55 members likely violated the rules last year alone.
Phil: Yes, for not properly reporting. Not for insider trading. Enforce the current laws before we deputize a new cavalry of regulators.
Ethan: Here I was trying to throw some praise on Jared Golden for doing a good thing, and you just had to throw some shade.
Phil: Speaking of shade, perhaps we should reveal to our readers that we will take the month of March off so you can take a vacation in an undisclosed location. I, on the other hand, will continue generating tax revenue and shoveling snow until mud season.
Ethan: Do you think Maine politics will survive without us?
Phil: I expect we will all be better for it. Bon voyage mon frère d’une autre mère.