Politics & Government

House passes ethics bill after deleting one key section

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. Chuck Kennedy / MCT

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday to curb insider trading by members of Congress and the executive branch, but not without the usual political acrimony that’s become a staple of Capitol Hill.

The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act breezed through the House on a 417-2 vote, with Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., and Rob Woodall, R-Ga., casting the dissenting votes.

But some lawmakers from both parties grumbled about what wasn’t in the bill designed to prevent House members, senators, senior congressional staffers and senior administration officials from trading stocks based on information they obtain during the course of their work.

“I voted for it. I like it, but I don’t,” huffed Rep. Stephen Cohen, D-Tenn. “It’s STOCK Act Lite. It’s better than nothing, but they sold it short.”

The bill was similar to one the Senate passed last week. But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., stripped out a key provision that would have required people who collect so-called political intelligence _ government information that can impact markets and stock prices _ and sell it to Wall Street or Washington’s K Street lobbyists to register in a fashion similar to how lobbyists do.

“I am grumpy,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee. She’s pressed Congress for years to do something about insider trading and authored her own version of the STOCK Act that had nearly 300 co-sponsors.

“This is really a ridiculous farce, no question about it. This (political intelligence) is an industry that makes $400 million, and as far as we know it could be much, much more. Why can’t they be as regulated as regular lobbyists?” Slaughter said.

Cantor defended his decision and contended that other alterations made to the bill, which were done in private, actually made it stronger.

“I think it is a provision that raises an awful lot of questions,” Cantor said of the scrapped political intelligence provision. “I think there’s a lot of discussion and debate about who and what would qualify and fall under the suggested language that came from the Senate.”

Cantor added: “The political intelligence piece is outside of this body, and we’re talking about us and the perception that has gathered around our conduct.”

Some House members agreed with Cantor. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., said the political intelligence language in the Senate bill is too broad.

“We’ve got to do something. This is about our integrity, our character,” West said. “We’ve got to police ourselves.”

Still, Cantor’s action left Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, angry enough to publicly criticize the Republican-controlled House.

“It’s astonishing and extremely disappointing that the House would fulfill Wall Street’s wishes by killing this provision,” Grassley said in a statement Wednesday. “If Congress delays action, the political intelligence industry will stay in the shadows, just the way Wall Street likes it.”

Democrats pounced on Grassley’s statement. Slaughter vowed to get the provision re-inserted if House and Senate conferees meet to resolve differences between the two bills.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, “Senator Grassley’s remarks are stunning, and a stunning indictment of the House Republicans.”

But in an election year in which Congress’ approval ratings are in the low teens, lawmakers readily voted for the Cantor-authored legislation, anxious to prove to voters that they can be tough on themselves.

House and Senate members received extra motivation following a CBS “60 Minutes” segment that suggested that lawmakers and their families may have financially benefitted by making investments not broadly known to the public.

Pelosi voted for the bill, even though it included a provision that was a dig aimed directly at her. The so-called “Pelosi Provision” bans lawmakers from using their position to get special access to initial public offerings of stock, or IPOs.

The provision was added after “60 Minutes” questioned whether Pelosi and her husband benefited from an IPO from Visa in 2008 about the same time Congress was considering new regulations for the credit card industry.

Pelosi said she and her husband did nothing wrong and their investment had no connection to the bill.


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