But now, we learn that even if the regulators try to obey the law, any member of Congress can request any information he wants and then spread it across the media.
According to an August 19 Reuters article by Sarah N. Lynch, confidential oil trading data collected by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has been intentionally leaked to a Wall Street Journal reporter. The article states that the leaked information “exposed the extensive positions speculators held in the run-up to record high prices in 2008. . .. Senator Bernie Sanders, a staunch critic of oil speculators, leaked the information to a major newspaper in a move that has unsettled both regulators and Wall Street alike.”
The CFTC is specifically barred from releasing confidential data it collects. However, the law also requires the CFTC to produce such information if a Congressional committee acting within its proper authority requests it. “Once it is in the hands of Congress, there is nothing to prevent lawmakers from releasing it publicly.”
In this case, when the CFTC first became aware of the breach of the data, it conducted an internal investigation to determine whether agency staffers were the source of the leak. The investigation concluded that no CFTC employees were involved. Instead, it appears that the data was first formally requested by the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. From there it made its way into Sanders’ hands. It is interesting to note that Representative Henry Waxman, a liberal Democrat and ally of Senator Sanders, was the Chairman of the Committee when the data was obtained from the CFTC. Unsurprisingly, Sanders’ office refused to say exactly how it acquired the confidential information.
Now I hold no brief for the oil or commodities trading industries. I suspect that there were indeed shenanigans involved in the sudden catapult that sent oil prices skyrocketing in the summer of 2008. In addition to starting the landslide that engulfed our economy, it surely did no good to John McCain’s presidential hopes.
But the larger concern is the egoistic—even egomaniacal—assertion by one Senator that he is above the law, that he can ignore the protections that were consideration for people to produce otherwise privileged information to the government.
Certainly, this precedent must raise concerns at the CFTC, which is legally prohibited from releasing confidential information that identifies trader positions and identities, and other regulatory agencies which are also barred from releasing information. Many agencies are tasked with gathering information for use in proactively preventing future dangers to people, property, and the nation’s economy and security. If people realize that an investigator’s promise that “we cannot release this information,” means nothing, they will be less likely to give information voluntarily and in a timely manner.
But that meant nothing to Sanders. Ignoring the CFTC’s legal obligation to preserve the confidentiality of the information it obtained, we are informed that “In a statement from Sanders provided to Reuters, Sanders said he felt the data needed to be publicly aired. ‘The CFTC has kept this information hidden (sic) from the American public for nearly three years," he said. "This is an outrage. The American people have a right to know exactly who caused gas prices to skyrocket in 2008 and who is causing them to spike today.’" (Emphasis added.)
Perhaps next year he will decide that the American people have a right to know details of my medical treatment by the VA. . . or your vasectomy! It his decision alone, the law be damned.