I was reading the news accounts of Speaker Silver’s stock holdings and the good government groups call for additional disclosure of the value of the stock holdings public officials should be required to provide and it got me thinking about how the good government groups and the media always miss the point when it comes to disclosure.
Now aside from the fact that the article about the Speaker was a cheap shot against a man that I think deserves a lot more credit for his attempt to achieve ethics reform this last session (and the fact that he wanted to get rid of the public integrity commission makes him an integrity hero in my book) the article completely missed the point. The disclosure of equity holdings of public officials is available for anyone that wants to see it and draw their own conclusion about it’s meaning (memo to self foil Minority Leader Skelos’s financial disclosure report since he is the opposite of an integrity hero – you can’t vote for the ethics bill and then refuse to override the veto of that bill and be taken seriously by anyone in favor of reform).
Yet even though the financial disclosure reports show us a public officials equity holdings the goo-goos want more. According to them we desperately need to know how much the holdings are worth. WHY? It’s just disclosure voyeurism, the ethics equivalent of a peeping tom. You may get a thrill from seeing it but it doesn’t accomplish much.
It’s not how much that matters but when the equity was acquired. It’s really no different than insider trading. I want to know when a public official buys or sells equities. That is meaningful disclosure. This matter of knowing when a stock is traded is important because it is at least conceivable that an elected official could obtain inside knowledge of something that would affect the stock price and then act on it. That's a problem. A big problem. With that piece of the puzzle we can tell far more about the motive than knowing how much they own.
Think of it this way, one of the tawdriest scandals in recent memory involved ex-governor Spitzer having sex with a whore. The media gave us that disclosure, they even told us how much the whore got paid along with sundry other facts a peeping tom would enjoy but it was the disclosure of the timing that I found enlightening. With the dates of when Spitzer set up his investment in this carnal stock you could determine if he violated the Public Officers Law by using the state plane for a non state purpose.
The commission’s opinion on plane usage is clear if the stated purpose of the travel was just a pretense than the use of the plane is a violation. Spitzer said he needed to go to Washington DC to testify before congress. But that testimony was scheduled after he booked the hooker, that’s a pretense and an open and shut case for the crack team of investigators at the commission.
Keep your socks on though I got a hunch that bunch would rather be peeping toms.