Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Tim Walz (D-MN) are mightily irked at House Republicans who “snatched” their insider-information ethics legislation and recrafted it in secret without their input, the two say. At issue is the House version of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which passed the Senate on a 96-3 vote last Thursday. Given the opportunity to raise the matter during debate on another matter Wednesday, other Democrats, including Jared Polis of Colorado, protested the GOP move.
“Now it’s being rewritten behind closed doors, and without the input of Mr. Walz or Ms. Slaughter,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said. “We don’t know what this so-called STOCK Act will contain.”
Rewritten behind closed doors with some lobbyists’ nudging, cajoling and wink-wink-nod-nodding.
Among other things, the Senate bill explicitly states that members of Congress are not exempt from rules barring the trading of stocks and other securities based on information they receive confidentially as a result of their position as lawmakers. If the bill is enacted, they would have to disclose their purchases or sales of stocks, bonds, commodities futures and other securities within 30 days of all transactions.
The bill also includes an amendment introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that would require firms dealing in “political intelligence” to register as lobbyists. These firms collect information from their congressional contacts and sell it to investors who use it as a guide for where to put their and their clients’ money.
It was the jettisoning of that provision in the House bill that had Slaughter and Walz shaking their heads in disgust and dismay Tuesday:
“When writing their own version of the STOCK Act, Majority Leader Cantor and House Republican leadership did not consult with the bipartisan coalition that has championed this bill,” she said. “And over the week neither I nor Mr. Walz were asked to contribute to the final product, nor was our leader consulted in any way.
“Despite championing the bill for six years, I was left completely out.”
Slaughter has been working on such a bill since 2006 and has gathered nearly 300 co-sponsors, 100 of them Republicans. Many of those co-sponsors clambered aboard in the wake of public outrage over a 60 Minutes investigation cataloguing how sitting and former members of Congress had used confidential information to make investments.
Cantor claimed the House Republicans were strengthening the bill. Said Slaughter Tuesday, “I think strengthening here is a euphemism for weakening.”
Sen. Grassley also had a negative reaction:
“It’s astonishing and extremely disappointing that the House would fulfill Wall Street’s wishes by killing this provision. The Senate clearly voted to try to shed light on an industry that’s behind the scenes. If the Senate language is too broad, as opponents say, why not propose a solution instead of scrapping the provision altogether? [...] If Congress delays action, the political intelligence industry will stay in the shadows, just the way Wall Street likes it.”
A vote could take place on the House bill as soon as Thursday.
Ever since the days when railroad company grifters passed out hundred-dollar bills directly to Congressmen, efforts to curtail the influence of lobbyists and their backers have been at least partially circumvented by one clever ruse, then another. The players adapt. It always takes a long time, plus media attention to a scandal or two, before Congress takes fresh action. That’s so for the obvious reason that some members who see that they can benefit from the attentions of these firms will choose to do so and block efforts to make this choice more difficult or outlaw it altogether. If the past is any guide, they’ll still be at it after the STOCK Act, however amended, is implemented. It will alter but in no way bring a permanent end to such matters.