Why is the Senate Armed Services Committee exempt from ethics rules that apply to their own staff? 

The Washington Post has a great piece on the double standard in ethics rules for one of the Senate's most powerful commitees:

The Senate Armed Services Committee prohibits its staff and presidential appointees requiring Senate confirmation from owning stocks or bonds in 48,096 companies that have Defense Department contracts. But the senators who sit on the influential panel are allowed to own any assets they want.

And they have owned millions in interests in these firms.

The committee's prohibition is designed to prevent high-ranking Pentagon officials from using inside information to enrich themselves or members of their immediate family.

But panel members have access to much of the same inside information, because they receive classified briefings from high-ranking defense officials about policy, contracts and plans for combat strategies and weapons systems.

"I think Congress should live by the rules they impose on other people," said England, who served as deputy defense secretary under George W. Bush until 2009. He said he willingly divested in order to serve his country. "I am frankly surprised they are allowed to have these investments. Every member of this committee has tremendous influence over every major contract at the Pentagon."

As bad as that is, at least there are some conflit of interest rules governing staffers behavior here. Back in October, the Wall Street Journal reported on how the lack of insider trading laws affects congressional staffers:

At least 72 aides on both sides of the aisle traded shares of companies that their bosses help oversee, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of more than 3,000 disclosure forms covering trading activity by Capitol Hill staffers for 2008 and 2009. [...]

The aides identified by the Journal say they didn’t profit by making trades based on any information gathered in the halls of Congress. Even if they had done so, it would be legal, because insider-trading laws don’t apply to Congress.

A few lawmakers proposed a bill that would prevent members and employees of Congress from trading securities based on nonpublic information they obtain. The legislation has languished since 2006.

“Congressional staff are often privy to inside information, and an unscrupulous person could profit off that knowledge,” says Vincent Morris, a spokesman for Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.), a leading backer of the “Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act,” or STOCK Act. “The public should be outraged there is no law specifically banning this.”

Getting rid of this blatant corruption among among staffers and members of Congress would be a good issue for the new Republican House to take up. No one in Congress should be profiteering off of companies they have a hand in regulating.

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Mark Hemingway

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