Congress guts insider trading bill, exempts itself

Congress approved a bill this week that would essentially allow its members to profit on the basis of insider information — something that would turn the ordinary citizen into a felon. It did this without fanfare, debate or discussion of any kind.

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In April 2012, Congress passed the STOCK Act, an acronym for Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge. It was proposed in response to disclosures by “60 Minutes” in November 2011 that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had profited heavily on information she had learned as a congresswoman.

The STOCK Act requires that the president, vice president, Cabinet members, members of Congress and senior staff members disclose their finances in a computer-readable and downloadable format.

The Sunlight Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for transparency and accountability in  federal government, reported Friday that the STOCK Act will now be gutted if signed by the president.

Without public notice, the Senate voted Thursday to exempt congressional and executive staff members from the disclosure requirements. “If anyone thinks high level congressional staffers don’t have as much or more insider information than their bosses, they should spend some time on Capitol Hill,” the foundation noted.

On Friday, the House followed suit.

Although the provision prohibiting insider trading by congressional members remains in effect, it’s been heavily watered down. According to the Sunlight Foundation:

For those to whom online disclosure would still apply (the president, vice president, members of Congress, congressional candidates and individuals subject to Senate confirmation) the Senate bill made electronic filing of the information optional and struck the requirement that online information be searchable, sortable and downloadable, making even the disclosures that remain in the bill tepid and relatively unusable.

If an ordinary citizen can’t search for a politician’s financial disclosures, that official is free to proceed with impunity, secure in the knowledge that his financial dealings will remain secret. Let the insider trading begin — again.

Read more at the Sunlight Foundation.


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