Brian Baird must be chortling. Before retiring in January 2011 as a member of Congress, one of Baird’s continuing crusades — officially banning insider trading by members of Congress — drew scant attention from his colleagues. Now, it’s all the rage inside the Beltway.Last week, in President Obama’s State of the Union address, he proclaimed: “Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress and I will sign it tomorrow.” Bipartisan applause erupted. Then on Monday, members of the Senate almost stumbled over each other in their rush to expedite the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge, or STOCK, Act. Their 93-2 procedural vote clears the way for consideration of amendments and possible passage of the bill as soon as this week.
Baird is looking like a genius now. Truth is, however, the Congress members’ plummeting public approval rates (some into single-digit percentages) likely had more to do with their stampede to improve their reputation. One explanation of recent polls came from Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., who confessed: “The numbers of people who have a favorable impression of this body are so low that we’re down to close relatives and paid staff. And I’m not so sure about the paid staff.”
But by the same token, don’t discount Baird’s influence on this matter. It was his appearance last November on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that ignited national outrage. Baird said in that interview: “One line in a bill in Congress can be worth millions and millions of dollars” to a member of Congress who gains insider tips during testimony and deliberations for bills. CBS cited three examples of unethical -- if not worse -- investments by three congressional leaders, using nonpublic information. Those three were House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; House Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala.; and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Although all three denied the revelations of the CBS report, the starting pistol sounded on the sprint to reform.
A few days later, on Nov. 15, The Columbian called on Baird’s successor — U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas — to follow his example, enlist in his crusade and sponsor the STOCK Act. That same day, she announced such a commitment.
According to The Associated Press, the Senate bill would make it clear that insider trading laws apply to lawmakers. They would be banned from tipping off family members or others about nonpublic information about a stock’s price, and the House and Senate ethics committees would write rules and spell out the punishment. We hope both the Senate and House expedite approval of the STOCK Act, with the same laws and punishments that the rest of us live with.
Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., said: “Beginning today, the Senate is embarking on a mission to help address the deficit of trust with the American people.” With all due respect, sir, Brian Baird for years told Congress precisely how to do that. Instead of listening to Baird back then, now they’re listening to polls. No matter, the bottom line is clear: The reform is finally taking shape. And if Baird doesn’t get much credit, we know him well enough to believe that’s OK with him.