Bill-signing ceremonies are pretty rare events in these times of gridlock and congressional backlog; so are moments of bipartisan backslapping and handshaking. But both happened briefly today when President Obama, surrounded by a few actual Republicans, signed and praised legislation passed by Congress.
The measure was the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, better known was the STOCK Act. A long-lingering piece of legislation, it shot to the top of the priority list after a “60 Minutes” investigation highlighted instances of what the program called congressional “insider trading” — lawmakers using information gleaned on the job, “non-public information,” for personal profit.
The STOCK Act affirms that lawmakers and staff are not exempt from federal insider-trading laws and gives the House and Senate ethics committees the authority to enforce new rules. It also requires lawmakers to disclose more information about their stock trades.
The bill as it passed was watered down in the House, angering some advocates. The House stripped out a provision that would have required people who gather “political intelligence” to register as lobbyists, and left out measures relating to prosecuting corruption.
The liberal-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said it was “lukewarm” on the legislation.
Still, lawmakers and the president, who pushed for the legislation in his State of the Union speech, took a victory lap.
Between the federal budget and its power to regulate commerce any bill coming out of Congress can make a company’s stock value skyrocket or plummet. If you happened to have inside knowledge as to what Congress was going to do next you could make a fortune. As a matter of fact, some members of Congress have done pretty well playing the stock market, including former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Martha Stewart went prison for insider trading. If you or me did what she did, we’d get locked up too. But for years those rules didn’t apply to Congress. I’m not gonna get ecstatic because they finally closed one barn door.
The STOCK act may sound pretty, but it’s just the illusion of reform. It’s like slapping a band-aid on a cancer. And they only did that because 60 Minutes exposed them.