U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite shouldn't try to personally profit from a federal recovery plan she characterized as extortion. Her speculating in bank stocks simultaneous with the approval and implementation of a $700 billion bailout of financial institutions last fall is unseemly. At the time, she was a member of the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees the banking industry and helped design the legislation. Brown-Waite opposed the bill both in the committee and on the House floor and labeled it as extortion.
The rhetoric didn't stop her from attempts to cash in by acquiring Bank of America and Citicorp stock prior to public disclosure of exactly which banks would receive tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money. Here are the details as first disclosed in a June 26 story by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Brown-Waite bought Citicorp stock on Oct. 2, the day before the House passed the bailout and President George W. Bush signed it into law. She invested again 11 days later, buying Bank of America stock on the same day then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told leading banks to accept the billions in federal aid to stem a potential panic. The stock purchases are valued imprecisely at being worth $1,001 to $15,000 on Brown-Waite's financial disclosure reports.
Unlike other House committee members named in the Plain-Dealer report, Brown-Waite did not blame a money manager or spouse for supposed coincidental stock purchases. In an interview later with St. Petersburg Times staff writer John Frank, Brown-Waite boasted of her capabilities as a risk-taker in handling her own financial portfolio.
Part of that risk shouldn't involve the public's faith. Brown-Waite should have recognized the appearance of conflicting interests that has sparked suspicions, though partisan in nature, of insider trading. That the prices of her stock picks have tanked is irrelevant.
While she sat on the banking oversight committee, Brown-Waite shouldn't have been buying and trading bank stock. It's a common-sense strategy to avoid even the potential appearance of wrongdoing. (She has since left the panel for a spot on the House Ways and Means Committee.)
Brown-Waite, whose district includes Hernando and much of Pasco County east of Little Road, also dismisses the idea that a blind trust would be a more appropriate way to handle her personal investments. Her suggestion to reporter Frank that blind trusts aren't really blind casts aspersions on every elected and appointed official in Washington who does the right thing to safeguard against conflicting interests.
In a released statement, Brown said she provides financial disclosure forms in accordance with House rules and that a blind trust is unnecessary because "I believe that my constituents deserve to know that their member of Congress is acting on their behalf and in their best interests.''
Indeed, the public does deserve to know that. But in this case, Brown-Waite's self-interests help erode confidence in her ability to distinguish between attempts at personal wealth-building and the public good.