Stopping smoking has become a big government endeavor. All told, for fiscal 2012, HHS will spend roughly $1 billion combating smoking, according to spokesman Bill Hall.
Mr. Schweizer, who is the president of the investigative Government Accountability Institute, said that even with the Stock Act, there are currently no restrictions on what investments lawmakers can make. For example, members of Congress serving on bank oversight committees are still allowed to buy bank stock.
In contrast, federal judges generally aren’t allowed to rule in cases that involve a company they own stock in, Mr. Schweizer points out, and high-ranking Pentagon officials are required to sell any stock they have in defense businesses that get government contracts.
“Because politicians essentially get to make the rules, those rules haven’t applied to them,” he said. “What they can do to move markets is far more substantial than what people in the private sector can do.”
Lawmakers only file a complete report on their finances once a year, each spring. The latest reports filed in May detailed their investments only through Jan. 1, 2012, and the lawmakers involved in the smoking-cessation debate did not respond to repeated requests by phone, email and in-person visits from the Washington Guardian to say whether they still owned the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson stock at the exact moment the debate began in May.
By the time they file their next ethics disclosure reports in May 2013, the debate will be a distant memory for most Americans.
Mr. Schweizer said the Stock Act was a step in the right direction, but didn’t go far enough. The trouble, he said, lies with government agencies that try to investigate lawmakers for violations of the act.
“They are going to be loath to take on a powerful member of Congress,” he said, comparing it to past troubles the FBI has had when it investigates sitting lawmakers.
Lachlan Markay is a freelance journalist who also works with the conservative Heritage Foundation.
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