Senate Passage of STOCK Act Marks Important, But Initial, Step: Statement of Meredith McGehee, Policy Director

“Last night’s Senate passage of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act represents a strong step forward on several important ethical issues. Senators who voted for passage are to be commended.  It is now up to the House leadership to ensure that the legislation is not watered down or scuttled."

“The STOCK Act makes it clear that is illegal for Members of Congress and their staffs to use nonpublic information for financial gain and requires disclosure of financial transactions within 30 days.  While it is unknown how big a problem congressional insider trading is, it is clear that the laws covering this nefarious activity should explicitly cover Members of Congress.

“While it is disappointing that the Senate refused to include language to require electronic campaign finance filings by Senators, it does include key provisions to strengthen anti-corruption statutes to hold public officials accountable.  These important laws have been significantly weakened over the past several years due to court decisions which increasingly narrowed their application, leaving prosecutors with few tools to combat corruption other than outright bribery.”

The provisions in the STOCK Act, based on a bipartisan measure sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), seek to fix the flaws in the laws governing illegal gratuities (the giving of gifts to public officials in order to curry favor) and honest services (a scheme to defraud the government through unethical conduct).   A bill with similar provisions to the Cornyn-Leahy bill has already been unanimously approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

“The House should move expeditiously to take up the Senate-passed bill and should reject any efforts to weaken it or to include poison pill amendments that will waylay final passage by both bodies.

“It is notable that the STOCK Act became a magnet for a large number of amendments focused on ethics issues.  Polls show levels of public confidence in Washington, and in Congress in particular, are at record lows.  With the upcoming elections, members of both parties are seeking the publicity for their proposals to strengthen ethics laws.  Rarely is Congress in a rush to hold itself accountable, but the public may in fact benefit from this pre-election race to the high ground in Congress.  Usually the race is in the other direction.  But ethics issues will continue to have saliency in a system where the parties are increasingly polarized and where the disconnect between our nation’s politicians and average Americans seems only to be growing.”