With unspeakable devastation from Florida to Ukraine, the stakes couldn't be higher for our upcoming midterm elections. We cover all of that on today's BradCast, even while tending to some long overdue accountability and grotesque conflicts of interest in Congress. [Audio link to full show is posted below this summary.]
The horrifying death toll from last week's climate change-fueled Hurricane Ian continues to rise. More than 100 were confirmed dead in Florida alone as of airtime. That number is likely to keep growing, along with the growing questions about why state officials did not call for evacuations before they finally did. Put those questions into the same file that may explain the state's years of climate crisis denial and its now collapsing insurance industry.
At the same time, corrupt authoritarian regimes elsewhere are similarly ill-serving their citizens. We get caught up a bit today on Russia's sham referendums and unlawful annexation of four regions in eastern Ukraine last week. That, as Russia's military offensive continues to collapse and lose ground to Ukrainians defending their sovereign homeland; as Vladimir Putin faces growing unrest after announcing the forced draft of hundreds of thousands of Russians; and as he continues to threaten the use of nuclear weapons as his political and military fortunes devolve.
Then, we move to Brazil, where far-right President Jair Bolsonaro lost in the first round of voting on Sunday to the nation's former leftist President known to the people simply as "Lula". While Lula defeated Bolsonaro over the weekend, neither candidate received the votes necessary to avoid a run-off later this month. Lula's victory was much narrower than expected based on pre-election polling showing that he was likely to defeat Bolsonaro by about 14 points. He won by just less than 6 points in what should serve as another object lesson for U.S. voters before our own critical midterm elections in just 35 days.
Next, we're joined by longtime government affairs and ethics lobbyist CRAIG HOLMAN of Public Citizen to discuss the Combatting Financial Conflicts of Interest Act that he had hoped to see passed in the House before next month's midterms. Holman helped shepherd passage of 2012's STOCK Act. It was hoped that the decade old measure --- requiring immediate disclosure of stock trades by members of Congress and ending their exemption from insider trading laws --- would shame members into avoid conflicts of interest when trading stocks in companies which they also oversaw in Congressional committees.
As Holman details today, the STOCK Act failed in that regard for several reasons. As a New York Times analysis found last month, at least 97 members of the House and Senate, of both parties, continue to hold stocks in companies that they oversee on Congressional committees. But it is hoped that the new measure will end that as well. It would bar members and their direct family (spouses and children) from buying and selling stocks at all, and require them to divest their portfolio entirely or place such assets into blind trusts.
"Prior to the STOCK Act in 2012," Holman explains, "insider trading was illegal for you and I and Martha Stewart, but it was perfectly legal for members of Congress. And they were making use of it. There was one economist who came out with a study that showed members of Congress enjoy a 12% higher rate of return than the rest of us on the stock market. Which means either they're geniuses at trading in the stock market, or they know something that we don't know. Quite obviously, it's the latter."
While the STOCK Act did reduce members' trading in stocks by about two-thirds, he says, the other third "are still out there trading. They are sitting on the same committees and in their same official capacities overlooking the same businesses that they're buying and selling stocks in."
The new bill, however, would finally end those bipartisan conflicts of interest, and/or the appearance of same, once and for all. But, Holman also explains how the bill he had hoped to see passed by both chambers before this year's midterms was derailed last week He tells us whodunnit and how he hopes to see the measure adopted nonetheless in the lame duck session after the elections. Here's hoping!
Does Holman have any concerns that this new law would prevent qualified folks from running for Congress in the first place? "Not on my end," he responds. "That is one argument that you always run into. But, quite frankly, if you've got a huge financial conflict of interest with your official duties of serving in Congress, I don't want you here. If you're not going to get rid of that conflict of interest, you pose more of a threat to the integrity of our legislative process, no matter how competent you are."
Finally, President Biden visited Puerto Rico on Monday in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Fiona (the storm that took out power across the island, yet again, just two weeks before Ian's devastation in Florida). He didn't throw paper towels at residents, as the former guy did following Hurricane Maria, though he did vow to help get their infrastructure back up and hardened to withstand many more of these storms that will be coming their way as the climate crisis worsens. We share some of Biden's remarks today...
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