Joseph Harris Jr. accomplished what few could this year: He helped write a piece of legislation that got passed. As counsel for Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) since February 2011, Harris, 32, assisted in crafting the STOCK Act, an acronym for Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge. It prevents members of Congress from using nonpublic information learned on the job to make investment decisions. The bill was watered down along the way, including the elimination of a provision that would have required the registration of so-called political intelligence gatherers who could use information gleaned from activities on the Hill in stock trading. Even with the changes, the bill’s passage was a rarity, given the usual rancor between Democrats and Republicans on the Hill these days, and the sensitive nature of a bill that polices its own.
People who know Harris say he’s well suited to be a consensus-builder. “He was pretty much friends with everybody in law school,” said Kristen Baylis, an associate at Parker Poe in Charleston, S.C.
Baylis graduated with Harris from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 2009. “We used to joke about ‘Joe Harris for President,’???” Baylis said.
Before working for Lieberman, Harris was a legislative counsel to former Representative John Spratt (D-S.C.), who, like Harris, is a graduate of Davidson College in North Carolina. (Harris was president of the Student Government Association while at Davidson.)
It’s not an easy transition from the House to the Senate, said Lieberman’s chief of staff Clarine Nardi Riddle, but Harris made it look pretty simple. “It’s smaller. It’s a different breed over here,” she said. “He quickly got up to speed.”
For both lawmakers, Harris has worked on financial services, tax reform, budget and economic policy matters.
After his second year in law school, where he was president of the Student Bar Association, Harris, who could not be reached for comment, was a summer associate at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, a 414-attorney law firm based in Columbia, S.C.
Harris’ leadership streak dates back to his high school days. He graduated in 1998 from Richland Northeast High School in Columbia, S.C., where he was student body president his senior year. — Leigh Jones