December 23, 2016 2:10 PM
Apparently the clutching of pearls has been added as a Festivus holiday activity. The Wall Street Journal published a story last night noting that Congressman Tom Price, now President Elect Trump’s pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services, owned and/or traded $300,000 of stock in medical related companies. The AJC has dutifully followed up referring to this story as a “bombshell” and is openly questioning whether this will derail Price’s nomination.
I’ll take the long road to answering that question. But if you want a spoiler or the TL;DR version, here it is: It won’t.
The simple fact is that the stock transactions were perfectly legal, properly disclosed, and are in no way unique. They represent a small portion of Congressman Price’s net worth. One of the stocks highlighted that he made the most profit on isn’t a US Company nor does it have US operations or sales, so it is completely removed from Price’s Congressional oversight. And the nature of the hyper-critical, hyper-partisan criticism is hyper-hypocritical.
Got that? Let’s break each of those facts down.
How did the Wall Street Journal get this “bombshell” story? From public disclosures. Congressman Price, like every other member of Congress, files an annual disclosure that lists his assets, including stocks. This “bombshell” has been hiding in plain sight all this time. I’m amazed no one was injured before it could be properly detonated at the time most inconvenient for Price.
Now let’s put these investments into perspective for Congressman Price. Recall that before becoming a member of Congress, he built one of the most successful orthopedic practices in the Southeast. As such, he has a substantial net worth, estimated at $13.6 Million in 2014.
Thus, the $300,000 in healthcare stock investments is approximately 2% of his net worth. According to Opensecrets.org, that’s actually an underweight mix of healthcare stocks of an average portfolio for a member of Congress.
But he’s not just any member of Congress you say? He’s about to be over all of Health and Human Services! Well, again, that’s addressed in the WSJ article:
If approved for the HHS post, Mr. Price would be required by federal law to sell stock in companies regulated by HHS, or recuse himself from matters regarding them.
And from the same article:
Phil Blando, a spokesman for Mr. Price and the Trump transition, said in a statement that “Dr. Price takes his obligation to uphold the public trust very seriously,” that he has “complied fully with all applicable laws and ethics rules governing his personal finances,” and that, if confirmed, he would comply with the law.
One of the stocks representing about 20% of the investments in question is that of Innate Immuno. It’s a company researching an experimental treatment for advanced multiple sclerosis. Per the WSJ, “In a statement, Mr. Wilkerson said his company’s drug is governed by regulations in Australia and New Zealand, so it won’t be deeply affected by the 21st Century Cures Act.” So…we’re supposed to be upset that Congressman Price can affect this company…how?
The fact of the matter is that Price has a reputation to be a policy oriented Congressman that can often be described as “dull”. Well, he used to be. Now, he’s the focal point of repealing the signature bill of a two term incumbent President and is moving to a position where he will quarterback the effort to remove government regulations over health care in favor of market based reforms. In short, he’s everything Democrats hate, and as such, expect items like this to be hyped as if Price is doing something unique, illegal, or unethical. The facts demonstrate quite the opposite.
Before partisans attempt this path, they need to be aware of the glass house members of their own party live in. Let’s take Former Speaker turned Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Her net worth of over $100 Million dwarfs that of Price. And how did she make this money? A lot of it from trading stock while a member of Congress.
This is what Pelosi told CBS’ Sixty Minutes in 2012 when asked about her stock trading activities:
Kroft: Madam Leader, I wanted to ask you why you and your husband back in March of 2008 accepted and participated in a very large IPO deal from Visa at a time there was major legislation affecting the credit card companies making its way through the– through the House.
Nancy Pelosi: But–
Kroft: And did you consider that to be a conflict of interest?
Pelosi: The– y– I– I don’t know what your point is of your question. Is there some point that you want to make with that?
Kroft: Well, I– I– I guess what I’m asking is do you think it’s all right for a speaker to accept a very preferential, favorable stock deal?
Pelosi: Well, we didn’t.
Kroft: You participated in the IPO. And at the time you were speaker of the House. You don’t think it was a conflict of interest or had the appearance–
Pelosi: No, it was not–
Kroft: –of a conflict of interest?
Pelosi: –it doesn’t– it only has appearance if you decide that you’re going to have– elaborate on a false premise. But it– it– it’s not true and that’s that.
Kroft: I don’t understand what part’s not true.
Pelosi: Yes sir. That– that I would act upon an investment.
Tom Price has done nothing illegal and nothing unethical here. Those seeking to criticize him for having stocks in his investment portfolio – especially those who raise this issue in the Senate when considering his confirmation – need to take stock of the glass house they are living in before casting this stone at an honorable man.