The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 16, 2012

STOCK Act stalling

By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer

— Legislation that would ban lawmakers from using inside information to enrich themselves — a bill that’s popular with members of Congress and the public but not so much with congressional leaders — may have stalled two weeks after it cruised through the Senate and a week after a weakened version overwhelmingly passed the House.

“We need to get this thing done,” said Congressman Tim Walz, who joined Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York Thursday in trying to renew pressure to get a compromise bill passed.

“Either there has to be some form of reconciliation or the STOCK Act is dead,” said Slaughter, a Democratic co-sponsor of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act. “And we’re not going to let that happen.”

Walz, a Mankato Democrat and chief sponsor of the bill, and Slaughter wrote a letter to House and Senate leaders Thursday asking that they assign a conference committee to reconcile the two versions of the bill.

Walz’s bill had only a handful of co-sponsors prior to a report by the CBS news program “60 Minutes” detailing instances where members of Congress may have used nonpublic information they’d learned on Capitol Hill to make highly profitable trades in the stock market. Media coverage and support by good-government groups following the broadcast culminated in the Senate bill passing on a 96-3 vote on Feb. 2 and the House version receiving approval a week later on a 417-2 vote.

Republican leaders in the House removed a pair of provisions, however, including one added to the Senate bill by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa that required employees of “political intelligence” firms to register in the same way lobbyists do.

Slaughter said Thursday that the political intelligence industry generates as much as $402 million in profits each year by collecting information on Capitol Hill and selling it to Wall Street firms who use it making decisions when buying and selling stocks. Operatives for those political intelligence firms should disclose who they are and who they’re working for, just like lobbyists, according to Slaughter.

“They set up meetings and walk the halls and glean valuable information that’s worth millions of dollars,” she said.

While the Senate supported the Grassley amendment 60-39, top senators including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were opposed. Walz said he still has hope that the provision can become law.

“People can learn if given time,” he said of Senate leaders.

And there’s no doubt that the STOCK Act has the support of Americans, according to Walz.

“The bipartisan support for this across the country has been unprecedented,” he said.