Allegations Made Against “Honest Graft” in Congress

News of this 60 Minutes investigation into congressional “insider trading” has been buzzing around Washington for awhile, which gave both Representatives John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi plenty of time to preemptively bat it down. Still, the details don’t look good for the lawmakers, and will likely spark a conversation over whether members of Congress should recuse themselves from legislation that relates to their personal stock holdings:

In the spring of 2010, a bespectacled, middle-aged policy wonk named Peter Schweizer fired up his laptop and began a months-long odyssey into a forbidding maze of public databases, hunting for the financial secrets of Washington’s most powerful politicians. Schweizer had been struck by the fact that members of Congress are free to buy and sell stocks in companies whose fate can be profoundly influenced, or even determined, by Washington policy, and he wondered, do these ultimate insiders act on what they know? Yes, Schweizer found, they certainly seem to. Schweizer’s research revealed that some of Congress’s most prominent members are in a position to routinely engage in what amounts to a legal form of insider trading, profiting from investment activity that, he says, “would send the rest of us to prison.”

These practices might not be illegal, but they’re clearly shady and unethical. Politico has more on the specific details: Pelosi reportedly invested in Visa when credit card-related legislation was in front of the House, and Boehner reportedly invested in health care stocks before the public option was removed from the health care bill. There are also assorted allegations against Rep. Spencer Bachus, former Speaker Dennis Hastert and former Sen. Judd Gregg.

This would normally have the makings of a major scandal, except the accusations against Boehner sound flimsy at best. He’s accused of opposing the public option for financial reasons, when there are blatant ideological motivations to explain his decision. Maybe “60 Minutes” thought the story would have more weight if it went after leading figures in both parties, but the weakness of the charges against Boehner ends up dragging down the entire investigation.