It’s fascinating to know that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D., N.Y.) husband “made more than 250 transactions in options in his E*Trade account in 2008, when his wife was in the House, according to disclosures.”
Almost all the trades were in put options, which convey the right to sell a stock or other instrument at a given price until a given date. At least 34 times, Mr. Gillibrand bought puts on stocks of home builders, including Beazer Homes USA Inc., Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., Meritage Homes Corp. and Ryland Group Inc. These were bets the builder stocks would fall; if they did, the puts’ value would rise.
Mr. Gillibrand also bought call options on ProShares UltraShort Real Estate. Although call options are bullish bets, this trade, too, was a bet against the property market, because the ProShares fund is designed to rise $2 for each $1 fall in real-estate stocks. His profit or loss couldn’t be determined.
But, in the end, I’m not sure what that adds up to. The Journal points out that in a press release late last month, Sen. Gillibrand “praised the effort to ‘rein in excessive risk and leverage in the pursuit of short-term profits.’” Asked about that in the light of her husband’s trades, a spokesman explained that she was talking about institutions that were leveraging more than 20 to one, “using taxpayer money on extremely risky short-term bets rather than long-term strategies that benefit the broader economy.”
The Journal talks to an excellent arbiter of congressional ethics, former Rep. Joel Hefley (R., Colo.), who led the House Ethics Committee for a time. Hefley says this kind of trading by lawmakers and there spouses doesn’t look good. But even he concedes, “You can’t have people not using their best judgment on their investment portfolio.”
Like I said, good instinct. But the Journal just didn’t find that much.