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Brian Baird talks congressional ethics on 60 Minutes
Posted by Kyung M. Song
WASHINGTON -- After years of fruitless attempts to make it illegal for members of Congress to profit from priviledged information, former Rep. Brian Baird appeared on 60 Minutes Sunday to denounce Washington's culture of personal enrichment over ethics.
Baird, a Vancouver Democrat who retired last year after six terms, told CBS news correspondent Steve Kroft he couldn't get even a dozen co-sponsors to back a bill that would have applied the ban on insider trading to lawmakers and other federal employees. Baird said lawmakers or their aides could easily make lucrative stock trades based on nonpublic information before a vote or while a legislation is being crafted.
"One line in a bill in Congress can be worth millions and millions of dollars," said Baird, who now lives in Edmonds. "There was one night, we had a late, late night caucus and you could kind of tell how a vote was going to go the next day. I literally walked home and I thought, 'Man, if you,if you went online and made some significant trades, you could make a lot of money on this.' "
According to Kroft's report, members of Congress can get away with financial transactions that would be considered criminal for almost anyone else. For instance, lawmakers can buy or sell stocks in insurers, banks or defense contractors even while working on legislation that would have material impact on those industries.
Kroft said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, made money trading health-care stock during the 2009 health-reform debate. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, profitably bet that the stock market would drop after attending a private briefing in September 2008 by then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke about the impending financial meltdown.
Bachus and Boehner both denied they acted on non-public information.
Members get other financial perks, too. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her husband have bought stock in eight companies that went public. One of them was the credit-card giant Visa. Pelosi purchased 5,000 shares at the initial public offering price of $44 a share, which two days later climbed to $64 a share. Pelosi's stock buy was perfectly legal.
While in Congress, Baird repeatedly tried and failed to get his "Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act" passed. In March, Rep. Timothy Walz, D-Minn., took over as the main sponsor. The bill bounced around half dozen House committees before stalling.
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