Political intelligence sounds like an oxymoron, and … well, okay, it is, but it’s also a buzzword these days for insider trading in an increasingly government-dominated economy. Erika wrote about it in January, and crusaders have focused mainly on Congress since then for reform ideas, even though no one’s really sure what to reform. Over the weekend, the Washington Post revealed that the White House has also tried to generate a little political intelligence of its own to benefit its ObamaCare efforts — and investors who cheerlead for it:
Wall Street investors hungry for advance information on upcoming federal health-care decisions repeatedly held private discussions with Obama administration officials, including a top White House adviser helping to implement the Affordable Care Act.
The private conversations show that the increasingly urgent race to acquire“political intelligence” goes beyond the communications with congressional staffers that have become the focus of heightened scrutiny in recent weeks.
White House records show that Elizabeth Fowler, then a top health-policy adviser to President Obama, met with executives from half a dozen investment firms in 2011 and 2012. Among them was Kris Jenner, a stock picker with T. Rowe Price Investment Services who managed its $6 billion Health Sciences Fund.
Separately, an officialin the agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid spoke in December with managers of hedge funds, pension plans and mutual funds in a conference call. The official, Andrew Shin, was pressed during the 50-minute call for information about upcoming Medicare decisions but declined to discuss matters still under agency review, according to people familiar with the call.
That call and the White House meetings Fowler attended were arranged by political-intelligence firms, an expanding class of consultants in Washington that specialize in providing government information to Wall Street.
Is there anything illegal about this? It’s hard to say what it might be. The White House responded that they’re happy to meet with any group to talk about their already-public regulatory actions and strategies for implementing policies, and that they didn’t share any non-public data. The first part of that assertion is probably not true — I doubt they’d be happy to meet with FreedomWorks, for example — and the latter part isn’t really testable. It seems unlikely that there are many secrets left in the administration’s rollout of ObamaCare, though, and the meeting probably had more impact on the political intelligence firms’ profile than on investor choices.
The reason these firms are flourishing, though, isn’t because of this Congress or the specific people in this administration. It’s because government increasingly directs the economy, and investors who want to know where to put their money increasingly have to look to Washington rather than the fundamentals of their investments. If we want to get rid of “political intelligence” and Beltway-based insider trading, then we need to get government out of the capital-investment and social-engineering industries.