Senate set for key vote on insider trading ban

AP News

3/22/2012 2:20:03 AM - AP News

A key Senate vote is set on a scaled-down bill to explicitly prohibit members of Congress and other federal workers from profiting from information learned on the job.

The procedural vote Thursday is the last hurdle to final congressional action on the legislation, which also would require affected officials to file public reports online within 45 days of their new financial transactions.

Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly have approved separate versions of the STOCK Act, which stands for Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge. A segment on CBS' "60 Minutes" in November said members of Congress were profiting from inside information.

Lacking enough votes, Majority Leader Harry Reid abandoned the Senate's own, stronger bill and decided to accept the House legislation, which stripped out two key provisions from the Senate-passed bill.

One would have required registration and public reports _ similar to those filed by lobbyists _ by anyone selling inside information learned from members of Congress and their staffs.

The second was designed to strengthen criminal laws in public corruption cases, raise maximum penalties and restore tools used by prosecutors that were limited by the Supreme Court.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday that he was casting a protest vote against the procedural motion. The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee was the chief backer of regulating those selling information learned from congressional contacts.

"My vote will protest the fact that the majority leader took political intelligence disclosure completely off the table," Grassley said. "The process shuts down any chance of trying to restore the provision. This is despite my willingness to modify the provision to meet concerns."

Opponents of Grassley's provision substituted a study to learn more about individuals and firms collecting so-called political intelligence.

Reid's procedural motion would limit debate and allow the Senate to vote on the insider trading ban. The motion requires a super majority of 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, but passage ensures approval of the bill. President Barack Obama said he would sign the legislation.

Under the House legislation, new financial transactions by members of Congress, top-level congressional employees and thousands of other government workers would have to be filed publicly online within 30 or 45 days _ depending on when the officials received official notice of the transactions. This would be in addition to the annual public reports now filed.

Congress' approval ratings remain near all-time lows, according to recent polls. In a Gallup survey released Wednesday, just 12 percent said they approved of the legislative body. The most recent congressional approval rating in an AP-GfK survey was 19 percent in mid-February.