When state senator Paul Stanley of Germantown found himself uprooted from his livelihood last month because his employer, the Stanford Financial Group, had been shut down by federal agents, he was entitled to — and largely received — a measure of sympathy that crossed partisan
and class lines. Though the principal officers of his shuttered firm were the targets of subpoenas, investigations, and indictments for suspected involvement in what the Securities and Exchange Commission called first "a massive fraud" and then an outright Ponzi scheme, Stanley himself, a wealth adviser at Stanford, said he had done no wrong and was given the benefit of the doubt.
This begged the question of whether Stanley might personally have pitched his clients on a particular series of certificates of deposit, held at Stanford Group founder Allen Stanford's own loosely monitored offshore bank in Antigua, for which the company claimed unusually high yields.
These CDs, the sales of which generated special bonus commissions for Stanford employees, were a major component of the collective red flag that attracted federal scrutiny of Stanford's operations in the first place. Asked whether he personally had trafficked in the CDs, Stanley quite properly said that both his confidential relationship with clients and the fact of the ongoing legal investigation of Stanford precluded his responding.
Fair enough, and we have no reason to doubt the scruples or the honesty of a legislator whose pointed rebuff of FBI agents posing as computer entrepreneurs looking for legislative help and willing to pay for it made him one of the unsung heroes of the Tennessee Waltz sting.
Good for Paul Stanley, we thought at the time, just as too bad for Paul Stanley is what we thought when the Stanford Group hit that legal iceberg in February. Such was our state of empathy for the likable legislator that we didn't even reflect overmuch on the irony of his complaint about the SEC's laxity: "I wish the government had done a better job the last 20 years." We say "irony" because surely the unsuspecting Stanley himself had a closer look at Stanford's possible irregularities during the years of his work at the company than had the government. Ah, well.
That irony took a more pointed turn last week, however, when the formerly well-paid wealth adviser, now out of work, became the principal sponsor of a bill (which passed the state Senate and now is pending in the House) that forbade local governments in Tennessee from mandating higher wages in their public contracts than those called for by the federal minimum wage itself. This was a bill aimed directly at "living wage" provisions passed by Memphis and Shelby County governments requiring wages ranging from $10 to $12 per hour.
What took our breath away and constituted the crowning irony of this affair, however, was Senator Stanley's argument on behalf of his bill that an unregulated market, not governmental jurisdictions, should set policy in such matters. Given his own recent experience as an employee, that touching faith was downright stunning, especially since his own bill — final irony! — would make state government the ultimate market arbiter.