Congressional Insider Trading Bill Moves Forward in the Senate

Jan 30, 2012 7:23pm

WASHINGTON — The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, the STOCK Act,  legislation to ban members of Congress from benefiting from insider stock trading, today moved one step closer to passage in the Senate.

By a bipartisan vote of 93-2, the Senate invoked cloture on the act, meaning the bill procedurally moved forward and will now move towards final passage after debate and amendments. Voting against the bill were Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Not voting were Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

The bill requires that members of Congress and staff disclose any stock transactions within 30 days. It also prohibits members of Congress from trading based on information that is not available to the public and puts into language and law that if their actions violate the public trust they will be punished.

Senators hope that this explicit law will clear up “confusion” that they say has been rampant and led to reports of members of Congress benefiting from insider trading.

“Members of Congress are not above the law,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said today. “We must play by the same rules every other American plays by. The STOCK Act will clear up any perception that it’s acceptable for members of Congress to profit from insider trading.”

The final passage of this law will be symbolic. Today many Senators noted that with such low approval ratings, Congress doesn’t need one more reason for the public to be against them.  They hope that a law like this on the books would at least in part help to clean up their tattered image.

“It is a violation of trust that our constituents place in us, a violation of the democratic process, a violation of the securities laws, and a violation of congressional ethics rules if members of Congress or their employees engage in insider trading, the use of information not available to the public, to make investment decisions,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said on the Senate floor today. “It’s important to remove that doubt because any appearance of a breach in trust between Congress and our constituents is so corrosive to honest, open and effective government.”

Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., the sponsor of the bill, who appealed directly to President Obama to help get this legislation through the Senate quickly, said today passage of the bill will send an important message to the American people.

“It’s about cleaning up Washington,” Brown said. “With the bill before us today, we can take a small step to reestablishing the trust between the American people and Congress. If we pass the stock act this week, it will send a very strong and unified message to the American people that congress does not — does not — consider itself above the law.”

In his state of the Union address last Tuesday, Obama pushed for passage of a bill to ban insider trading by members of Congress, saying he’ll “sign it tomorrow,” once Congress sends him a bill passed by both houses.

The Senate could approve final passage of the bill possibly as early as this week. If passed, which is likely given the bipartisan vote tally today, the bill will be sent over to the House of Representatives.

But, as ABC News’ John Parkinson reports, the House is expected to consider its own version of the STOCK Act by the end of February. A GOP leadership aide says while the Senate bill is a good-faith effort, is not a perfect bill and the House will introduce its own version with tweaks to improve it.

Then the House would likely send its bill back to the Democrat-controlled Senate for final passage before sending the bill to  Obama for his signature.

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