It had the makings of a scandal: Paul Ryan traded banking stocks during the financial crisis the same day as a meeting with top Treasury Department officials, a Virginia blog wrote Monday. But the rumor, which spread rapidly across the Internet, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
The meeting in question took place on Sept. 18, 2008, between Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and congressional leaders including Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner and Harry Reid. The Richmonder, a progressive Virginia blog, noted on Monday that Ryan’s financial disclosure form from 2008 showed that he sold stock in Citigroup and JP Morgan, who were in crisis, the same day and bought stock in Goldman Sachs, which proved to be stronger. The blog claimed that Ryan also attended the meeting. The implication, they stated, was that he was using information gleaned from the briefing for personal profit.
It was wrong. In fact, the meeting with Bernanke took place in the evening after trading hours, meaning Ryan wouldn’t have had time to execute the move if he wanted to.
The Romney campaign said Ryan had nothing to do with the trades in the first place. They were part of a Russell 1000 index fund that automatically traded stocks as part of a pre-set formula. Ryan’s disclosure forms include several similar trade patterns at various points throughout the year.
In a statement provided to TPM through the Romney campaign, Larry Gaffney, the independent accountant for the partnership who handled the trades in question, said the stocks were out of Ryan’s control.
“Trades are done automatically based on an algorithm on a regular basis,” said Gaffney, who works as a CPA in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis. “In addition, this index was held at the time within a partnership in which Rep. Ryan had and continues to have no trading authority.”
Peter Schweizer, the conservative Hoover Institution fellow whose investigation of insider trading by members of Congress prompted the STOCK Act, said Ryan’s trades bore no resemblance to those by lawmakers like Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), who shorted finance stocks after high-level meetings.
“[I] never like the idea of congressmen trading during times when they are dealing with major policy issues, but [it’s] not like Bachus where the timing is suspect,” he said in an e-mail.
Melanie Sloan of CREW concurred.
“You can’t be trading on insider information if the market is already closed,” Sloan told TPM.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.