Last year, Congress passed the STOCK Act with great fanfare. I’ve written about it before because it had the potential to enhance government transparency. The law had the power to stop insider trading by congressmen.
Now, raise your hand if you actually thought that law would last…
No one? I figured.
In one of the least shocking moves in recent memory, Congress decided to gut the STOCK Act in an under-the-radar vote that crushed any hope for policy-making transparency.
You see, rather than build trust, our representatives would rather cover up criminal activity.
In modifying the STOCK Act, Congress killed the provision requiring congressional members and White House staff to post their stock transactions online.
The same day the bill was introduced, the Senate voted on the changes (with no public debate) in a nighttime voice vote. The House followed suit with a similar voice vote – and no debate – the very next day.
The whole process happened so quickly that Harry Reid introduced the bill on April 11, and it was signed by President Obama on April 15.
House Republican leaders even violated their much trumpeted promise to give the public three days to study any bill before holding a vote.
Never Listen to What They Say. Just Watch How They Vote.
When the original STOCK Act was passed on April 4, 2012, the media ate it up. President Obama said it was the first step to “help fight the destructive influence of money in politics and rebuild the trust between Washington and the American people.”
But media coverage of the latest changes was virtually nonexistent compared to the triumphant proclamations of a year ago. And the president is dubiously silent this time around.
There’s a silver lining, though! Starting in 2014, the president, vice president, and members of Congress will once again have to disclose their trades.
The problem is, the disclosures won’t be placed online where the public or journalists can easily review them. Instead, the disclosures will be extremely difficult to access. Why? National security.
That’s right. Whenever Washington passes an unpopular bill, they often justify it on the grounds of “national security”.
Tom Lee of the Sunlight Foundation explains the tactic this way: “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.”
The reactions from government watchdogs were swift and furious.
Lisa Rosenberg, also of the Sunlight Foundation, writes:
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 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 to find it?
Actions (Still) Speak Louder Than Words
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