WASHINGTON – Some members of Congress want to include executive branch employees in a bill that would ban lawmakers from using nonpublic information to made stock trades. The bill also would require public reporting of new securities transactions within 30 days, all part of an effort by Congress to boost its dismal approval ratings that are now in the teens.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters Tuesday that if the bill now before the Senate isn't expanded to include the executive branch, he would add that provision to a bill expected to receive a House vote sometime in February.
A Senate amendment proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., would include the executive branch.
"Why would this rule not apply to executive employees in the administration?" Coburn asked.
Actually, parts of the bill already apply, but not the 30-day reporting requirement.
Standards of conduct for the executive branch prohibit government workers from "engaging in financial transactions using nonpublic information, or allowing the improper use of nonpublic information to further private interests." Senior executive branch officials must publicly file annual financial disclosure reports — the same as members of Congress and their senior staff.
It was unclear when the Senate would be ready to vote on the legislation.
U.S. lawmakers already are subject to the same penalties as other investors who use non-public information to enrich themselves, though no member of Congress in recent memory has been charged with insider trading. In 2005, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department investigated then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's sale of stock in his family's hospital company, but no charges were ever brought against the Tennessee Republican.
Voters may believe lawmakers who are paid an annual salary of $174,000 are enriching themselves — especially if those voters saw a segment of CBS' "60 Minutes" in November. The show questioned trades by a House committee chairman, the current speaker and his predecessor's husband. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., all denied wrongdoing. Bachus chairs the Financial Services Committee.
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll of registered voters found 56 percent favored replacing the entire 535-member Congress. Other polls this year have given Congress approval ratings between 11 percent and 13 percent, while disapproval percentages have ranged from 79 percent to 86 percent.
The bill is titled the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act. President Barack Obama has endorsed it.
The Senate bill would prohibit lawmakers from tipping off family members or others about non-public information that could influence a stock's price, in addition to the explicit ban itself. And it would direct the House and Senate ethics committees to write rules that would make insider trading violators subject to congressional punishment.