The Senate voted Monday to begin debate on legislation that prohibits lawmakers and their staff from trading stocks based on information they learn during congressional briefings and related work.
In a rare show of bipartisan support, the Senate advance the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or STOCK Act by a voted of 93 to 2.
"Members of Congress and their staffers have a duty to the American people. They may not use privileged information they get on the job to personally profit," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said.
"But the perception remains that members of Congress are using their positions as public servants to serve themselves instead. Insider trading laws were created to level the playing field. And members of Congress are not above the law. We must play by the same rules every other American plays by.
Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) voted against the bill. Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Roger Wicker (R-MI) did not vote.
Insider trading is already illegal, but many worry that loopholes in current law mean that Members of Congress and their staff cannot be held accountable for trading on non-public information they learn through their work in Congress.
"As you recall, from a 60 minutes investigation only two months ago, we learned that members of Congress, their staff, as well as other federal employees, may be using material nonpublic information for their personal gain, either through stock trades, real estate deals, or other financial activity," Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), who introduced the bill in November 2011, said on the Senate floor.
"Everyone agrees that this should be illegal, or already is. But somehow, despite all the evidence, there has never been a single Member of Congress or congressional staffer charged with insider trading," he noted.
The STOCK Act empowers the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to investigate suspected illegal trading by members of Congress, staff and their families.
"I'm extremely glad to join senators from both parties to fight for this bill," Sen. Mark Udall said. "It adds teeth to the law, and will help ensure members of Congress are looking after the needs of the American people - and not themselves."
President Obama endorsed the STOCK Act during his State of the Union address.
"Last week, the President called on Congress to pass a bill that makes clear that Members of Congress may not engage in insider trading," the White House Press Secretary said in a statement. "No one should be able to trade stocks based on nonpublic information gleaned on Capitol Hill. So we are pleased the Senate is one step closer to passing the STOCK Act. While there’s more work to be done to eliminate the corrosive influence of money in politics, this is an important step to repair the deficit of trust between Washington and the American people."
Photo credit: Gabi Hernandez