Brian Baird spent half of his 12 years in Congress in a frustrated, and futile, effort to gather support for his legislation to make it illegal for lawmakers to engage in the kind of financial transactions that those in the real world know as Insider Trading and for which they can be sent to jail. He and one or two supporters offered it each session but couldn’t even get a committee hearing.
But Baird was able to look on with satisfaction when, a year after he decided to focus on family and not run for re-election, a late-2011 program on CBS' "60 Minutes" brought national attention to his idea and coined the phrase "Honest graft," meaning it was graft but it wasn't illegal. The program exposed how members of Congress and their staff traded stocks based on nonpublic information to which they had exclusive access.
Lawmakers by the dozens scurried like frightened rats to get aboard as supporters amid the public outcry the news program sparked and so in April of 2012, the measure titled the STOCK Act (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) was passed to finally bar members of Congress from doing stock transactions in areas they regulate.
Now Baird is watching with some amusement because, since Republican congressional leaders went out of their way in 2012 to quickly pass legislation extending the law to the president and vice president and those who worked for them, President-elect Donald Trump would be covered by the law. So he and his minions are seeking to exempt him from the law.
Newt Gingrich, explaining why ethics laws shouldn’t apply to Trump, even offered the view: "We've never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don't work…We're going to have to think up a whole new approach." He suggested that Congress change ethics laws so Trump can avoid any conflicts of interest that his global business empire may pose.
And Trump himself has said he is not subject to laws relating to conflict of interest.
Maybe so. But maybe not, since the Republicans who now control both houses of Congress may not wish to take early action on something that would allow critics the opportunity to point to the GOP lawmakers as being the lap dogs of the President. In other words, if they rolled over on command on the issue of ethics, what commands could they object to?
And Walter Shaub, director of the federal Office of Government Ethics (OGE), has issued a memo providing official guidance to Congress on the issue. His letter explained: “The Stock Act bars the President, the Vice President, and all executive branch employees from: using nonpublic information for private profit; engaging in insider trading; or intentionally influencing an employment decision or practice of a private entity solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation.”
But the President names the OGE director so once Trump moves into the Oval Office, it might be a good bet that Shaub will be replaced and that his successor will offer a quite different view.
Baird served six terms from Washington’s Third Congressional District before deciding in 2010 that his young family (he and his wife, Rachel Nugent’s, twin boys were 4 years old at the time), was more important than his battles in Congress. There was talk of his being targeted by the GOP if he had sought re-election, even though in his last four re-elections, none of his opponents could muster even 40 percent of the vote.
He says that while his family was the key reason he decided not to run again in 2010, other reasons included frustration over “the growing extremism and intransigence of many in the Republican party” and the “Democratic leadership showing little if any understanding of the concerns for centrist members from swing districts.”
Baird, who gained a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Wyoming after graduating from the University of Utah, says of the emerging focus on the STOCK Act and its relevance to Trump: “I'm just glad people are standing up for the bill now and trying to make sure it has the desired impact.”
But he finds it humorous that the growing attention to the law has brought a number of representatives and Senators who are being quoted about the brewing controversy as Trump’s inauguration nears and describing themselves as author of the law.
“As they say, success has many parents, even if they were nowhere near the conception,” Baird mused in an email to me.
The interviews by CBS reporter Steve Croft with then-House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his unexpected questions making Boehner look like someone hiding from the truth and Pelosi like someone too incompetent to even come across as thinking, should be part of every high school government class. The topic of the lecture in which the You Tube interviews were featured could be titled: “Who elects these people?”
The interviews are now difficult to find on You Tube because you have to subscribe to “60 Minutes.” Too bad.
The controversy over the STOCK Act and the soon-to-be Trump Administration isn’t currently getting a major focus from the media.
But a budding controversy could become a political brouhaha once a new president takes an action that would be illegal under the act.