Wednesday, October 22, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;50.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/novc.png;2014-10-22 02:18:24
Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A flashlight and a vote

Telegraph Editorial

One of the things people hate about Washington is the way Congress passes laws that apply to everyone else, but make themselves exempt.

Members of Congress for years were allowed to make stock trades using insider information. The same practice that landed Martha Stewart in jail was legal for members of Congress. If they got a hot tip after meeting with the CEO of a drug company, for instance, they could legally buy a few thousand shares of that CEO’s stock, then sell it after the price spiked when news went public. ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

One of the things people hate about Washington is the way Congress passes laws that apply to everyone else, but make themselves exempt.

Members of Congress for years were allowed to make stock trades using insider information. The same practice that landed Martha Stewart in jail was legal for members of Congress. If they got a hot tip after meeting with the CEO of a drug company, for instance, they could legally buy a few thousand shares of that CEO’s stock, then sell it after the price spiked when news went public.

It was only after “60 Minutes” did a blistering piece on the issue were members of Congress shamed into holding their noses and passing a law making such insider trading illegal. The law also required trades from members and their staffs to be posted online via a searchable public database that would be easy to download.

Why, the photo of President Barack Obama signing the bill shows Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown looking on proudly, presumably secure in the knowledge that Congress had stuck a blow for transparency.

That didn’t last long. Congress snuck through a repeal of sorts in the spring of 2013, so that the trading records of congressional staffers – about 28,000 of them – are not posted online. Technically, they’re public, it’s just that you have to travel to a Capitol Hill basement and look though thousands of pages one by one.

How they did it says a lot about how sneaky members of the House and Senate can be when it comes to the art of the self-deal. They passed the law by unanimous consent, so nobody had to actually vote on the thing directly, and nobody’s fingerprints were on it. It didn’t even get a reading on the floor and was structured in such a way that it required somebody to actually object in order for it to fail.

And, wouldn’t you know it, nobody objected.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen? No objection.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte? No objection.

Rep. Ann Kuster? No objection.

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter? No objection.

They didn’t actually take a poll, mind you. That would have been too transparent.

New Hampshire elected officials are not much better when it comes to keeping the public in the dark.

We were reminded of that recently when Gov. Maggie Hassan’s legal counsel, Lucy Hodder, pointed out that the governor’s office is exempt from the state’s Right to Know Law. That’s how the law has historically been interpreted by the attorney general, who is chosen by – drum roll, please – the governor.

The Legislature is also exempt from the Right to Know Law, and the state’s judicial system isn’t subject to the law at all. Supreme Court justices set the guidelines for which judicial records are public.

Which means that the closer you get to the bedrock of our three branches of government, the less genuine public scrutiny and disclosure there is. The public only gets to see, for the most part, what the people in government want them to see.

That’s wrong and it should change.

At the end of the day, all the public really has is a flashlight and a vote. If those in power, through a vast array of loopholes and exemptions, can dictate to the public what corners of government can and can’t be illuminated, then that flashlight is of limited value.

Then, all the public is left with is a vote.

We think it’s time the people demanded that the governor and Legislature fully subject themselves to the Right to Know Law, weak as it is.

We note that Republican candidate for governor Walt Havenstein has put forth a plan for reforming ethics in the state. It’s not perfect and does little to address the role of lobbyists, but it would subject the governor’s office to the Right to Know Law.

By contrast, Havenstein’s Republican primary opponent, Andrew Hemingway, said he thinks the Right to Know Law is fine and doesn’t need to be changed.

The law, in fact, is in desperate need of reform and we think the Nashua legislative delegation should lead the way.

Unless, of course, there are things in government they’d rather people not see.