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As your congressman, I view my character and reputation as not only my business, but yours.
A book titled "Throw Them All Out" by Peter Schweizer is premised on the allegation that while Americans were losing their life savings in the financial crisis of 2008, members of Congress were getting rich by trading on inside information. While purposely designed to inflame, it was certainly not true for my wife, Linda, and me.
Although the author asserts I was among those members who profited, like many Americans, my wife and I lost a third of the value of our mutual fund, stock and pension savings in 2008.
The author further attempts to build animosity by claiming Congress is exempt from insider-trading laws. The truth is completely the opposite, as the director of enforcement for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has stated repeatedly under oath. I have never traded on insider information.
Still, these facts did not prevent the author from launching into a long diatribe of false innuendoes concerning my financial investments. Books like this are a dime a dozen, because scandal sells, and distrust of Congress is at an all-time high.
Perhaps the clearest indication of bias is a lengthy story of how then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson received a disturbing private phone call from General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt on Sept. 8, 2008, about difficulties that GE was having financing its operations. The author theorizes with no justification that I may have been told this "inside information" and personally profited by "shorting" the company's stock.
The fundamental problem is I did not short-sell GE. I did the exact opposite and bought it on the belief it was a great company and was undervalued.
Contacted by CNBC's Kudlow Report on Nov. 17, I agreed to debate the author on this claim and other untruths. He backed out at the last minute. Challenged by host Larry Kudlow during a later interview, he admitted he was wrong about GE.
The author also alleged that I bought a fund of financial stocks in July 2008, contradicting my stated policy of not investing in companies under the jurisdiction of the Financial Services Committee which I now chair. In fact, as CNBC accurately reported, the fund consisted entirely of energy stocks. But no apology for this fabrication has been made.
Nevertheless, a "60 Minutes" report based on the false allegations in the book also insinuated that I traded financial stocks by displaying a GE logo. In truth, GE was not listed as a financial company by the SEC or New York Stock Exchange during the period I held it.
In addition, a bogus claim has been made that investors and the public were kept in the dark about an alleged "private briefing" on the deteriorating U.S. economy held by Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Sept. 18, 2008.
In reality, it was a well-publicized meeting attended by congressional leadership at the U.S. Capitol Building. The so-called "secret meeting" was widely reported by the wire services beforehand and the meeting's participants held a news conference immediately afterwards that was covered by every major media outlet. Pictures appeared on the front pages of many newspapers the next morning.
In a Wall Street Journal column labeling this a "nonscandal," Holman Jenkins wrote, "In reality, who on September 19 wasn't warning of a financial meltdown? Look at the papers from that day -- news of what Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson said was everywhere before the markets opened."
The public rightly demands that elected officials conduct themselves honorably. Financial disclosure has long been considered the best safeguard. But it may be that the only way to completely address even the perception of a conflict of interest and false allegations is for members of Congress not to trade or to place their holdings in a blind trust.
It is hurtful when loved ones, neighbors and church members read and hear falsehoods attacking your character made and repeated in the media. But negative and personal attacks intended to create controversy and fear do not succeed.
As your representative, please be assured that I will continue to strive to serve you with joy and optimism.
Source: The Birmingham News