Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is in the midst of a tough re-election fight, and he’s eager to put his best foot forward. Unfortunately for him, there have been a series of incidents – talking up imaginary phone calls, denying the existence of oil company subsidies he’s voted for, “kings and queens” – that have thrown Brown off track.
Unfortunately for the Republican incumbent, the hits just keep on coming. We learned yesterday, for example, that Brown’s “Let America be America” video (which is built on a rather ridiculous lie) is filled with stock footage of Europeans. Oops.
Making matters worse are new revelations about one of Brown’s few legislative accomplishments.
It was a rare show of bipartisanship – President Barack Obama, flanked by Democrats and Republicans in April, signing into law a bill that would ban insider trading on Capitol Hill. The measure, known as the STOCK Act, had passed the House and Senate at warp speed.
Lawmakers proclaimed that the bill, officially called the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, would restore trust in government…. But CNN uncovered that the law that members of Congress thought they voted for earlier this year isn’t exactly as advertised. A loophole could still allow family members of some lawmakers to profit from inside information.
The point of the bill is to prevent insider trading among lawmakers. It wasn’t as strong a bill as it could have been, but overall, the STOCK Act was a step worth taking.
But it turns out, there’s a workaround: lawmakers’ spouses are exempt. A member of Congress could get inside information, have his or her spouse make investments based on this information, and it would be legal, even under the new law.
Scott Brown ostensibly wrote the legislation, but he now says he didn’t know about the loophole. Worse, there’s evidence to the contrary.
Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown, the only Republican senator to attend the White House signing ceremony, said he was “obviously very concerned.”
“Say I find out some information, I tell my wife and she goes and trades on it, what’s the difference?” Brown told CNN.
Good question. The answers is, as a practical matter, there is no difference. Brown’s STOCK Act appears to have left some ambiguity, which lawmakers will now exploit.
OK, so maybe the Republican senator was just clumsy. Perhaps someone changed his proposal when he wasn’t looking. Maybe Brown opposed the loophole but he lost some control over the direction of the legislation. He could be blamed for incompetent policymaking, which is hardly encouraging, but it’s forgivable.
The problem, however, was flagged by David at Blue Mass Group: Brown knew all along that the STOCK Act wouldn’t cover spouses’ investments. In fact, Brown’s office circulated a memo in November, specifically addressing this point. From Q&A in the memo:
Q: Does the Senate STOCK Act cover the spouses of members?
A: No. Spouses of members are outside the scope of the Senate STOCK Act.
So, the GOP senator is now “very concerned” that his major legislative accomplishment does exactly what he said it would do.
Do you ever get the feeling that maybe Scott Brown is in over his head?