How DC insiders launder insider market information for the rich

We already know that Congresscritters make huge bank through insider trading, exploiting a loophole that lets them place bets on the stock market based on rules they have yet to announce. But this game-rigging con isn't limited to elected officials: a whole class of unregulated beltway insiders make their living by wheedling "political intelligence" (that is, insider information about upcoming regulations and laws) out of politicians and their staff, and then selling it on to consultants who package it up into legal insider trading recommendations for the hyper-rich.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has released Financial Market Value of Government Information Hinges on Materiality and Timing, a 34-page report on this practice, trying to figure out how pervasive the scam is. They didn't get any great answers:

"The political intelligence industry is flourishing, enriching itself and clients in the stock market, yet the report notes that it could not document who these people are or how much they profit," [Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for government watchdog Public Citizen] said. "Without full transparency of the activity of these political intelligence consultants and their clients, it is nearly impossible to know if they are trading on illegal insider information."

Government Report Examines 'Political Intelligence,' But Questions Remain [Legal Times/Andrew Ramonas]

(Thanks, Alan!)


  1. Arrrggh… so sick of this kind of crap.  Are there any decent politicians out there any more?  No? Didn’t think so.  

  2. Like I’m surprised at all by any of this.

    When I have discussion with my parents about politics from time to time it comes up how all this may pan out.  I usually just look at them and with a blank expression tell them, violently and bloody.  At least if history has any say in the future it will.

  3. I always kind of figured that a quant’s job is to cover up the boss’s insider trading.   “Oh no, that’s not insider trading. The algorithm did it automatically.  Our quants are just the best.   No, you can’t look at the algorithm, that’s our proprietary trade secret.”

  4.  It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy. It would be a monumental day if a handful or a few guys come out.

  5. Insider trading of this sort is an inevitable cost of having a reasonably strong regulatory regime.

    If we want to have the benefit of regulation (and goodness knows we do), then we have to expect that people will seek to get advanced knowledge of business impacting regulation in exactly the same way they’d seek advanced knowledge of business relevant weather, supply difficulties, and other news.

    The trap to avoid is assuming that just because people are getting rich that the over-all outcome isn’t positive.  *Every* act has its costs.

  6. As a comics fan, I had a wonderful moment while reading the title where I tried to understand how DC comics insiders could somehow engage the super wealthy… then my terrific fantasy collapsed into a sad reality. 

    1.  If DC/Warners had a healthy movie franchise, that might be somewhat plausible. Not so much with Nolan finishing his run on Batman and Zach Snyder’s Superman still an unknown quantity.

  7. In many cases, these groups will also present themselves as media outlets in order to get access to decisionmakers in the guise of “interviews.” I work in PR for a government agency, and it puts us in a weird position where we have to try and weed these people out. Our mission requires us to default to openness and accessibility, but we also take it as part of our public service to keep these jerks from trading on access they get in the name of “public information” to line their pockets while shutting average citizens out.

    One of the keys here is that they aren’t looking for access to elected officials, but to the public servants who actually do the rulemaking/implementation of the laws. The rich corporations who buy members of Congress know how they are going to vote. What they can’t control as well (and thus need “intelligence” about) is how the ones who will actually implement/enforce the law are going to do their jobs.

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