McLEAN, Va. -- A new law designed to stop insider trading by members of Congress and nearly 30,000 federal workers is facing a constitutional challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md. It says the law's requirement that federal workers disclose financial transactions greater than $1,000 is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy and subjects those workers to a real fear of identity theft.
The affected workers already have to file financial disclosures with the Office of Government Ethics. As a practical matter, though, those forms are rarely inspected by the public. According to the lawsuit, the office received only 79 requests for access to those disclosure forms in 2008, with an additional 127 requests submitted to the various executive agencies themselves. Also, the people asking to inspect those reports must identify themselves.
Under the new law, though, the information is easily available to anyone on the Internet, on the theory that disclosing such information would expose any trades in which an individual benefits from inside knowledge on congressional actions that affect the marketplace. That crosses the line and becomes an unreasonable invasion of privacy, said the plaintiffs' attorney, Jack McKay.
McKay said courts have previously made a distinction between limited public disclosure of personal data and widespread dissemination.
The lawsuit does not seek to overturn the restrictions as they apply to members of Congress and their staffs.
"Congress can do what it wants to do," said Arthur Spitzer, legal director for the ACLU's Washington D.C. chapter.
In its original form, the bill applied only to Congress and its staffers. But an amendment by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., extended the authority to senior members of the executive branch. Shelby argued that, as a matter of parity, if disclosure was a good idea for Congress it was also a good idea for the executive branch. Obama signed the bill into law in April.
"I believe what is good for the goose, it seems to me, should be good for the gander," Shelby said earlier this year on the Senate floor in support of his amendment.
Shelby's spokesman, Jonathan Graffeo, declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said Shelby worked closely with other lawmakers to ensure that the legislation applied only to those who were already required to file disclosure forms.
In addition to privacy concerns, the lawsuit questions whether the law is necessary. The initial legislation was filed in response to press reports that some members of Congress or their families may have profited on financial deals where they benefited from inside knowledge of how Congress would act. Spitzer said there are no similar reports of such problems on the executive side and that executive branch workers were already subject to criminal penalties that did not exist for members of Congress.
"It's a solution in search of a problem," Spitzer said.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Senior Executives Association, the American Foreign Service Association, the Assembly of Scientists and the National Association of Immigration Judges.
The law takes effect at the end of the month, unless the plaintiffs can win a court injunction barring the law's implementation.
Nuts Bring Buckets of Same
Just in case anyone forgot that the House Judiciary Committee ACORN hearing was a House Judiciary Committee hearing about ACORN, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/02/acorn-hearing-a-barrel-of_n_376882.html">Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) helpfully brought a bucket of acorns</a> to the House Judiciary Committee. Also that day, colleague Lamar Smith praising the "turnout so early in the day" at 2:30pm, and Louie Gohmert offering up the malaprop: “From one acorn, many nuts can grow.” Like, say, Peter King.
Hello Kitty, Hello Revolving Debt
Credit cards. Were it not for them, we would have to save up money in order to buy things. But do some credit cards take it too far, marketing to the youths? Byron Dorgan thought so when he saw the Hello Kitty Platinum VISA. "Does it seem to you like they’re targeting that 10-year-old, the 14-year-old." Ha! He should see the <a href="http://www.shopinprivate.com/hello-kitty-pink-guilty.html">Hello Kitty vibrator</a>.
"I'll See Your Baby, And Raise You Two Tweens"
Last time out, we made mention of Representative John Shadegg's (R-Ariz.) attempt to wield a baby in order to make a point about how terrible health care reform was. We neglected to mention that Representative Pete Stark (D-Calif.) took it a step further, and attempted to bring two young children to make his own points about health care (5:25 in video), at which point the House was officially barred from trafficking in human props any further.
John Thune's Stackin' Dollars
How much is too much stimulus? When it allows representatives to make junior high math analogies based on topography and astronomy, maybe. Here, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) makes some stupid pictures of dollar stacks that extend into the sky, to the celestial firmament itself. “If you took 100 dollar bills, Mr. President," Thune said, "and stacked them on top of each other you would have a stack that goes 689 miles high.” He added, "In other words, if you took the 100 dollar bills and not stacked them on top of each other, but wrapped them side-by-side all around the earth… If you could believe this, it’d go around the earth almost 39 times." So, we cannot stimulate the economy, because of science! (1:15 in clip)
Gettin' High On Your Own Supply (Of A Substance That Does Not Get You High)
Representative Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) wasn't having any of that whole "regulating tobacco" stuff. Why? Because it's "not the nicotine that kills, it's the smoke!" So, he argued, why don't we regulate lettuce, to keep people from smoking lettuce? Wouldn't that prevent a "pandemic" of cancers? This would have been a good point, were it not for the non-existence of either a massive industry geared toward curing lettuce and rolling it into cigarettes, or a target market of consumers who were even remotely interested in smoking lettuce. BUT YEAH OTHER THAT ALL THAT STUFF (and the fact that nicotine is addictive) STEVE BUYER IS A GENIUS.
And Now, A Poem From Ted Poe
From Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas): <i>It came on two pages, It has withstood the ages. / The word "shall,'' is only 10 times mentioned, But enough to get one's attention. / No taxes did this law raise, To this day it continues to create much praise; / Two great religions does it claim, The "Law of the Ten Commandments'' is its name. / A current writing, 1,990 pages long, Has a socialist philosophy that is all wrong; / Difficult for the people to understand, And troubling what big government doth demand. / Over 3,445 "shalls'' it does loudly shout, New massive taxes does it proudly tout; / Written in secret by the bureaucrats, For exclusive use of the taxacrats. / The Congressional bill called "Health Care Reform," Is illusionary, the authors are still ill-informed; / Government ought not take over America's health biz. / And that's just the way it is."</i> And so, America, this is why you should have to die of easily treated medical conditions.
And Now, An Even Dumber Poem, From Roland Burris
From the junior senator from Illinois: <i>"It was the night before Christmas, and all through the Senate / The right held up our health care bill, no matter what was in it / The people had voted a mandated reform / But Republicans blew off the gathering storm / We'll clog up the Senate, they cried with a grin / And in the midterm elections, we'll get voted in / They knew regular folks needed help right this second / But fundraisers, lobbyists and politics beckoned / So try as they might, Democrats could not win / Because the majority was simply too thin / Then across every state there rose such a clatter / The whole senate rushed out to see what was the matter / All sprang up from their desk and ran from the floor / Straight through the cloakroom and right out the door."</i> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/22/burris-backs-reform-with_n_400456.html">There's more</a>, but you will probably want to shoot yourself in the face after you read it.
Chuck Grassley Goes All Aggro On The Speaker Box
For some reason, in the course of discussing fuel efficiency standards, Senator Chuck Grassley decided he should drive his point home by shouting out Ashton Kutcher and his movie, "Dude, Where's My Car." Prior to this, Grassley went on an <a href="http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Speech_by_GOP_Senator_references_stoner_0924.html">extended monologue</a> about Pink Floyd's <i>Dark Side of the Moon</i> album and the shards of a broken prism and the "multishades" of light. Just straight up tripping balls, in the well of the Senate. Anyway, as you now know, this TOTALLY fixed fuel efficiency standards!
Sam Brownback Will Save Your Inanimate Genetic Material
Who's looking out for your precious bodily fluids? Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, that's who. And he's enlisted the help of a young girl, named Hannah, who has the power of talking to human embryos! "<a href="http://thinkprogress.org/2006/07/18/brownback-embryo/">Are you going to kill me?</a>" the embryos asked Hannah, who immediately scrawled a picture of this conversation on a giant piece of posterboard, so that Sam Brownback could stop people from killing the stem cells. And then Sam Brownback went on to support a bunch of wars in the Middle East!
The Most Important Prop Of All
James Inhofe (R-Batshit) hates him some gay marriage, and the gays in general. And to make his point, he carries around with him The Most Important Prop in America: a picture of his family. "As you see here, and I think this is maybe the most important prop we’ll have during the entire debate, my wife and I have been married 47 years. We have 20 kids and grandkids. I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship." Ha! THAT HE KNOWS OF!