Insider trading and Congress

Comment by Jim Campbell

Getting legislation passed through the current house and senate that is still loaded with obstreperous fools, reprobates, crooks,  and scoundrels  will be a challenge.  We are more likely to see pigs fly.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, I’m J.C. and I approve this message.

Capitol crimes

The Economist

Congress considers legislation to limit its own insider trading:

FOR elected officials life in Washington, DC, holds many advantages. One is having a network of friends and associates who keep you well informed. But allegations have surfaced that politicians sometimes make use of this privileged access for personal profit.

Last month CBS television aired an episode of “60 Minutes” that accused several members of Congress of financial opportunism usually associated more with Wall Street than Washington. The reason they can get away with it is that insider trading is perfectly legal for members of Congress, at least according to Peter Schweizer, the author of the book “Throw Them All Out”, on which the CBS episode drew.

This has set off a fuss on Capitol Hill, as congressmen try to decide what the law actually allows. Some authorities doubt that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) could successfully charge a member of Congress with insider trading, because it is unclear to whom congressmen owe a “fiduciary duty” and what qualifies as “material, non-public information” in a political context. These elements are clearer at companies, where insider-trading cases usually occur.

It is remarkable, though, that congressmen’s investments have been so laxly supervised. Members of Congress are not barred, for example, from owning shares in companies that are regulated by committees on which they sit. They are able to trade freely, even if they find out before anyone else about regulations or events that could affect specific industries or the stockmarket as a whole, such as a war, an executive order or a new law.

Their unharnessed access to political intelligence may be part of the reason why a 2004 study that measured the performance of senators’ stock investments in the mid-1990s found that they outperformed the market by 12% a year. A 2006 bill, the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, aimed to hold politicians to the same standards as corporate insiders. It got little support.

In the current political climate, members of Congress are under more pressure to distinguish themselves from greedy bankers. More than 170 congressmen from both parties have rushed to sign the STOCK Act, or introduce their own version. “It is absolutely essential that we do restore the public’s trust,” says Spencer Bachus, the House Financial Service Committee chairman, who was among many accused by “60 Minutes” of benefiting from inside information. He denies wrongdoing, and has introduced his own bill, which would require members of Congress to put their assets into blind trusts. But even if a bill of some sort is passed, no one is expecting many showcase trials: after all, the SEC gets its funding from Congress.

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