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Cleveland Plain Dealer...
Sen. Sherrod Brown has sold his stocks, and wants colleagues to sell, too  
February 5, 2012 

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Senate is preparing to vote this week on a bill that would expressly prohibit lawmakers and their staffs from using “nonpublic information,” gained through their official duties, for their personal benefit. 

It would end what lawmakers say is confusion about when and whether existing insider-trading laws apply to them. 

Can well-educated (and wealthy, for the most part) leaders really be confused about right, wrong and breaking the law? 

Well, considering that Congress is even considering this, Ohio Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown says the Senate should go a step further. Brown and Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley are pushing an amendment to prohibit senators from even owning individual stocks. 

Senators would have to put their stocks in a blind trust for someone else to manage independently, or sell the stocks and put the money in broad-based mutual funds. 

Brown’s measure would be broad enough to cover not only insider trading but also conflicts of interest, genuine and perceived. 

For example, he said during a conference call with reporters today, “Members of the Senate who own oil stocks shouldn’t be voting on energy issues, period. That will take care of so much of this problem in a much more fundamental, basic, sort of self-enforcing way. And their spouses also should not be able to hold these stocks.” 

Brown’s amendment is not yet wildly popular. 

But what about Brown’s own stocks? 

He owned stock in Time Warner while promoting broadband expansion, something Time Warner showed interest in, according to Brown’s own financial disclosure forms and Time Warner lobbying reports. 

And although Brown is on the Senate banking committee, which in 2010 helped write the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law, he held stock through a family trust in J.P. Morgan Chase that year, his records show. 

Was there something wrong with that? We asked this about the Time Warner stock, and here is Brown’s answer. 

“No, there wasn’t,” he said. “Two answers to that. 

“One is that my dad, soon before his death 15 years ago, gave me 100 shares of Time Warner. It was worth about $5,000 then. I sold it last year. I should have sold it years earlier. I probably didn’t because I didn’t think much about it or probably partly because of my dad. And I sold it for about $2,000, or less than that. 

“I also inherited last year, after the death of my mother, a small amount -- when I say a small amount, a few thousand dollars, literally -- of J.P. Morgan stock. It shows in one of my reports [that] I sold it almost immediately upon inheriting it. So I think I should not hold any of those. The total worth of those was, I believe, around $10,000, maybe less. I thought that selling it made the most sense.” 

As for as pushing for broadband expansion at the same time as owning Time Warner, Brown said, “I’ve been fighting on broadband for years, on rural areas in my state, and I’ll continue to. And I don’t have any idea whether it would have benefited Time Warner or not. 

“I know it benefits these rural communities that are trying to do start-ups, whether it’s a dairy farm or trying to start a small company or just doing school work. Students in southeast Ohio need high-speed broadband.” 

Senate financial disclosure forms make it nearly impossible to tell whether a lawmaker has sold all or only part of his stock holdings. But Meghan Dubyak, Brown’s communications director, said Brown has sold all his individual stock holdings. 

His colleagues would have to do the same if Brown’s amendment passed. 

Read this and other articles at the Cleveland Plain Dealer

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