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May 5, 2023

EPA Managers Own Mobil Oil Shares: Can You Spell “Bad Optics”?

Should gangsters give corrupt cops W2 forms?

By Ed Goldman

A news story I somehow missed a few months ago made me nostalgic for foxes in hen houses, wolves in sheep’s clothing and even fish out of water:

“Thousands of federal government officials across the executive branch reported owning or trading stocks that stood to rise or fall with decisions made by their agencies, a Wall Street Journal investigation found,” reported federaltimes.com. It’s a website for wonks—not, as its name first suggested to me, light reading for maximum-security prisoners.

Edgy Cartoon

Smoke check

But wait, there’s more: “More than 2,600 officials at agencies from the Commerce Department to the Treasury Department, during both Republican and Democratic administrations, disclosed stock investments in companies that were lobbying their agencies for favorable policies. That amounts to more than one in five senior federal employees across 50 federal agencies reviewed by the Journal.”

I came across the story when the Journal itself reported much more recently that hundreds of employees of the Environmental Protection Agency own shares of Mobil Oil stock.

“Holy Hypocrisy!”, as Robin might have said to Batman in the old TV show. (“How old?” you ask. This old: It was announced at the beginning of each episode that it was to be broadcast “in color.”)

I’ve been trying to think of an immoral equivalent for the news. What comes to mind is the following: cops on the payroll of gangsters; prison guards bribed by their aforementioned gated-community tenants; elected officials receiving gifts from labor unions; and, though I hardly need add this, returned-from-space astronauts who’ve been probed and brainwashed by aliens. 

Obviously, not all of these things happen. For example, gangsters don’t really keep cops on the payroll. If they did, the cops’ W-2 forms would give them away every April 15. (The really smart gangsters give the cops 1099s and pay them as consultants.)

In my little world, there’s not a lot of room for corruption on this scale. 

I suppose some of the people profiles I introduce every so often into the mix of these columns could have been funded by the profiled people themselves since, as a reader pointedly asked me last year, “How come you seem to like the people you profile?” 

My response was, “That’s why I profile them.” It was lengthier than saying “Duhhh,” though I’m pretty sure I could have dragged that out to be as long as the six-syllable as the answer I gave. 

In short, I simply don’t profile people whom I don’t like—nor, I should add, do those people seek me out in the hope I’ll write about them. I think they sense that the “angles” suggested by them or their publicists—such as, “What you don’t know about this passionate Satanist-turned-scrapbooker,” “This guy fixes major appliances using mental telepathy” and “An afternoon at the movies with a Neo-Nazi”— might not fill me with enthusiasm. 

Well, I confess that the second idea might pique my interest a little bit. But only when my dishwasher gets temperamental because I forget to pre-rinse my Bundt pan, which doesn’t happen often since I’ve made exactly one Bundt cake in my life. I digress.

How is it possible that. with a government supposedly rife with checks and balances, an awful lot of checks still manage to get through? Or are the oil companies paying EPA managers their dividends via fixed-deposit accounts? (Suggested ad: “If you’re already conscience-less, why not go paperless?”)

Don’t federal employees fill out conflict-of-interest forms—and if so, why doesn’t overseeing the energy industry while also owning shares of an energy company constitute a wee moral lapse?

Well, gotta run. I have tickets to a play this evening and I’m told it’s in color. 

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).