Thursday, August 23, 2012

S. 3510, The "What is Harry Reid Up To With This Patriotic Sounding Bill?" Bill

Ok, ok. It has been fun passing around malicious insinuations about Harry Reid in retaliation for his own malicious insinuations about Romney. I think the blog-cycle for that meme has pretty well run its course.

What does that have to do with the most recent bill signed into law by the President? Not a whole lot on the face of it, considering that S 3510, nominally "a bill to prevent harm to the national security or endangering the military officers and civilian employees to whom internet publication of certain information applies, and for other purposes" was passed unanimously through both houses and committee.

The bill itself is very short, without even a title section ,though the bill purpose, the quoted thing above that acts as a title when none is specifically given, is pretty long and obscure, the two in tandem helping the bill fly under the radar.

The bill amends the STOCK act, a bill signed back in the spring after a series of high profile reports about congressional insider trading. The text of the bill is short enough to post here in full, though absolutely baffling:

SECTION 1. EFFECTIVE DATE DELAY.

    The STOCK Act (Public Law 112-105) is amended--
      (1) in section 8(a)(1), by striking `August 31, 2012' and inserting `September 30, 2012'; and
      (2) in section 11(a)(1), by striking `August 31, 2012' and inserting `September 30, 2012'.

SEC. 2. IMPLEMENTATION OF PTR REQUIREMENTS UNDER STOCK ACT.

    Effective September 30, 2012, for purposes of implementing subsection (l) of section 103 of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 (as added by section 6 of the STOCK Act, Public Law 112-105) for reporting individuals whose reports under section 101 of such Act (5 U.S.C. App. 101) are required to be filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives, section 102(e) of such Act (5 U.S.C. App. 102(e)) shall apply as if the report under such subsection (l) were a report under such section 101 but only with respect to the transaction information required under such subsection (l).

Clearly not designed to facilitate easy reading. The full text of the STOCK Act can be found here for those who want to play along at home.

Section 1 amends two parts of the STOCK Act to push back deadlines by one month. Subsection 1 pushes back the deadlines for online posting of the stock transaction information for members of congress (as well as candidates for congress and congressional employees) by one month. Subsection 2 does the same thing but for an assortment of executive branch employees, from the president down to GS-15 or O-7 pay level employees (not gonna lie, I have no idea how important those people are. UPDATE: GS-15 is the top of the standard pay scale and the O-scale for military officers tops out at O-7). A full list of executive branch compilers is here, but basically it sounds like anyone with an important sounding title is required to disclose their investments.

Section 2 is a mess. I would say it is cunningly designed to frighten away lay-folk, but after running down all the references, it really does seem to be written in the most efficient manner possible. The necessary background is that in the original STOCK act, there was a section which required executive branch employees (the same ones mentioned above, from President to GS-15) to report basically any financial transaction over $1,000 dollars (with an array of exceptions and special inclusions). These reports must be filed under section 102, which has a certain set of requirements about how it must be reported that is somewhat stricter than those found in section 101. According to this bill, which has been signed into law, those new reports required by the STOCK act can be filed under the somewhat easier section 101.

Why do I say that section 101 is "easier"? Because while section 102 contains a large number of exceptions on transactions that simply do not have to be reported, they do not exempt any transaction required under the STOCK Act (though I could be missing something, let me know if you are playing along at home). Section 101, however, contains a subsection (h) which allows waivers to be granted for departing employees, as well as this gem:

(i) The supervising ethics office for each branch may grant a publicly available request for a waiver of any reporting requirement under this section for an individual who is expected to perform or has performed the duties of his office or position less than one hundred and thirty days in a calendar year, but only if the supervising ethics office determines that—
(1) such individual is not a full-time employee of the Government,
(2) such individual is able to provide services specially needed by the Government,
(3) it is unlikely that the individual’s outside employment or financial interests will create a conflict of interest, and
(4) public financial disclosure by such individual is not necessary in the circumstances.
The original text was, of course, not bolded suggestively (though I can't seem to get the formatting right when I copy-paste from the bill text).

We can see now where they hyper-patriotic bill descriptor came from, since this does loosen reporting requirements for military officers. I question whether whatever endangerment they may suffer from having these records disclosed is greater than the endangerment to the Republic of allowing government agents authorized to kill people or order the killing of people (including American citizens) to also engage in insider trading or otherwise hide their financial dealings from their employers (their employers being the American citizenry). But I will let that slide for now in the short term political interest of asking a wholly partisan question.

What is Harry Reid hiding?

Note that the main effect of this bill is to delay the release of certain financial documents by a month. When we consider the welfare of our government employees and servicemen, one month hardly seems significant. Indeed, even when we consider the welfare of our politicians, the bill itself doesn't raise any alarm bells. After all, September 30th is a whole month before the election, well before most early voting has started and plenty of time before November 6th to get the message out. And anyway, Reid was up for election last cycle and won't face the voters again until 2016, so the only potential political gain from this bill is pushing Reid's disclosure back a month. Not his filing deadline, since that hasn't changed, just how long he has before this information goes public.

Then we read the bill more closely and discover that September 30th is not the day that the records will go live. September 30th starts a 30 day clock for the records to be released. Suddenly we are not looking at a month for these records to be made public, but seven days. The seven days before an election when the people will have made up their minds, and may anyway assume that scandalous information released right before an election to be partisan lies.

Beyond that, who will be paying attention? This is why I single out Harry Reid for particular attention with regard to this bill. A brief timeline:

  • In November of last year 60 minutes did a special report on Congressional insider trading.
  • In January of this year Scott Brown from Massachusetts authored a bill with the junior Democrat from New York to stop insider trading in congress.
  • President Obama and Congressional Republicans (as well as a large contingent of Congressional Democrats) all come out in support of the bill, but Harry Reid holds it up for months. No explanation is given. 
  • The bill finally passes the Senate and is signed almost immediately to bi-partisan fanfare, becoming law on April 4, 2012.
  • Time passes and everyone except Harry Reid forgets about the new reporting requirements.
  • On August 2nd, Harry Reid introduces a bill to push the reporting requirements from his least favorite bill back to lessen the chance that it will interfere with the election. 
  • Then Harry Reid makes the malevolent inference noted at the start of the post, leading to all sorts of furor, including many people asking why he won't release his own tax returns.
  • People begin to ask just how Harry Reid made all his money. The possibility of corruption is investigated (pay-to-play and land deals), but stalls due to lack of public data.
This may not mean anything, and it may mean everything. If Reid had scandalous deals that came out at election time after alleging that Romney engaged in tax fraud, the blowback could seriously hurt national Democrats, Nevada Democrats, his reputation, and possibly his senior post if the Senate flips now that there is modern precedent allowing him to stay on top. Perhaps he is protecting someone else. Perhaps he is testing the waters to see how forgotten the STOCK act is for a future amendment gutting the whole thing.

And perhaps it is all a coincidence. I find that I get more predictive power assuming that legislators are idiots than by assuming that they are evil masterminds, but I find myself wavering on this issue.

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