One of the things that was a mitigating factors for our great nation’s founding almost 250 years ago was the level of corruption that had permeated all areas of British life, particularly it’s government. For this reason, most, if not all, of the signers of our Declaration of Independence, supported a weaker federal government and more power being held at the state and local level, where those in power could be held more accountable.
Sadly, a similar concern about corruption is felt by many in the US today. Because we have just celebrated Washington’s birthday, I thought it only fair view through his eyes, the topic of insider trading that has unfortunately become all too common by the powerful and well connected in our nation’s capital.
For decades, Washington’s elite have regularly become rich off the information they are privy to as governmental leaders. In many ways, it is one of the only bipartisan activities left in D.C. While these practices have always been an open secret to Washington insiders, in recent years the public have become more aware of how prevalent this kind of corruption really is.
These new revelations started back in 2008 when just days before the economic meltdown several members of Congress, who had been briefed in secret meetings on the potential economic collapse of Wall Street, pulled all of their personal investments out of the market while leaving millions of Americans to lose their life savings, homes and jobs.
More recently, at the onset of the pandemic concerns were once again raised as many legislators, privy to sensitive information about the severity of Covid 19, sold large quantities of stocks just before the markets experienced a significant drop in late February. These questionable trades were not limited to Congress however, as many senior officials within the Federal Reserve were also involved in high quantity trading during that time, while at the same exact time, taking actions that would directly impact our markets and the performance of their investments.
After a recent investigation by the publication Insider revealed that in 2021 alone 54 members of the House and Senate failed to live up to reporting requirements mandated by the Stop Trading on Congressional Information (STOCK) Act, there has been a growing call for all high-ranking government officials to be forced to hold personal assets in blind trusts. Through these blind trusts, these assets would then be out of the individuals’ direct control as long as they held a position of power in Washington.
Both conservatives like Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and progressives like Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York have all voiced outrage of this appearance of corruption we are seeing in Washington. The fact that these three individuals all agree is a signal me that things have really gotten out of control and reform is desperately needed.
After doing the unheard-of act of stepping down from power voluntarily upon the completion of his second term as President, George Washington addressed this very subject in his farewell address in 1796. In his speech, he spoke of the importance of not allowing party politics and career politicians to obtain undue influence over our government. He warned that such a situation would naturally lead to unbridled corruption and the rise of despotism.
With only one in four Americans now trusting our elected leaders, according to a recent Pew study, these concerns about government corruption seem to represent a big problem in Washington. Especially considering that in 1964, the same study by Pew found that three in four trusted their elected officials at that time.
As director of compliance for an investment management firm, I take very seriously the power wealth managers can have to manipulate the markets to line their pockets, while hurting those who have entrusted them with that power. We go through extraordinary steps to ensure even the appearance of impropriety is avoided. Those entrusting us with their hard-earned money deserve no less.
In my opinion it’s time for those in Washington who have been entrusted with exponentially more power be held to these same high standards of conduct.