Washingtons Inside Game

Terrance Heath

Just in case you missed the news, “Insider trading” is back. It’s even bipartisan. Well, the truth is that it never really went away after its heyday during the 1980s, when Gordon Gekko served as a stand-in for era villains like Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky. It launched more investigations in the 1990s than at any other time, except for the 1980s.

In the “aughts,” the names and players changed, but the “inside game” remains the same. Now, Raj Rajaratnam and Martha Stewart serve as stand-ins for Milken and Boesky. Gekko even returned to the scene, getting out of prison little more than year before Rajaratnam began serving his own prison sentence. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney could even be called a stand-in for Gordon Gekko, in the 2012 presidential election. (But Newt Gingrich could be a runner-up for that spot.)

Not only are insider trading and inside traders back, but they’re not just on Wall Street anymore. They’re all over Capitol Hill, and apparently have been for a while. Naturally, now that it’s news, there’s a bill to ban congressional insider trading —the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge Act, a/k/a the STOCK Act.

Naturally, this has led to efforts to block the STOCK Act in the House of course, after the Senate passed it by a vote of 93 to 2.

That lawmakers have to go out of their way to pass a law prohibiting them from engaging in insider trading with information they come by as a result of being lawmakers, is revealing. But the hoo-rah over the STOCK Act misses another related, and perhaps even bigger, problem.

It fell to Jack Abramoff, of all people, to point this out in an appearance before Public Citizen.

Jack Abramoff and Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. Photo by Brendan Hoffman for Public Citizen use.Consider, too, his case for ending the revolving door between K Street and the government. Abramoff described his practice of “featherbedding” — making job offers to chiefs of staff in Congress. “I started to notice pretty quickly that the second I said that to them,” he said, “they were so incredibly complimented, that from then on anything I asked was just absolutely granted.”

As word of the job offers spread, “it seemed 90 percent of the people I dealt with up there wanted to come work for me.” Often, “they planned to go with me in a year or six months but from that entire period of time they really worked with me anyway. . . . That was an incredible way to control a congressional office.”

Consider, as well, Abramoff’s explanation of how lawmakers are bought. “What you need to do as a lobbyist is not buy votes,” he explained. “What lobbying is about in large part is becoming friends with them,” raising money for them, and providing them with “a stream of goodies that led to an ability to ask them back for stream of goodies the other way.”

His criticism has apparently struck a nerve on K Street, because the American League of Lobbyists has been trying to rebut it. “I’m not even sure you could qualify Abramoff as a lobbyist,” wrote Paul Miller, the group’s president. “I would call this a criminal.”

A word to the American League of Lobbyists — we have a saying down south that might apply here: “A hit dog will holler.’ To put it another way, going out of your way to say “He’s not talking about us. That’s not what we do,” pretty much confirms that he is talking about you and that what he’s talking about is what you do.

Abramoff, if nothing else, probably knows whereof he speaks. His remarks fill in another part of the bigger picture (of which Citizens United is another part) of government of, by and for the 1%.


Get updates in your inbox