- Associated Press - Thursday, March 22, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Thursday sent President Obama a scaled-down bill to explicitly ban members of Congress, the president and thousands of other federal workers from profiting from nonpublic information learned on the job.

Mr. Obama has said he would sign the bill.

In an unusual move, the legislation passed unanimously without a vote on the measure itself. Passage was automatically triggered by a procedural motion that was approved on a 96-3 vote. The lawmakers who voted no were Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

The bill would give the public a more frequent look at financial transactions of government officials. A driving force has been Congress‘ focus on its own dismal approval ratings, which ranged from 12 percent to 19 percent in polls over the past several weeks.


Public reports would be posted online either 30 days after the individual was notified of a transaction in his or her account or 45 days after the transaction. The House currently posts disclosure information on the Internet, but the Senate still requires people seeking the data to appear personally at a Senate office building.

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 that members of Congress were profiting from inside information, giving new impetus to legislation that had languished for years.

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

One was designed to strengthen criminal laws in public corruption cases, including restoration of tools used by prosecutors that were limited by a Supreme Court ruling.

The second, which was more controversial, 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.

Opponents of regulating so-called political intelligence operatives substituted a study to learn more about individuals and firms collecting and selling information.

Federal officials, including members of Congress, are not excluded from federal laws prohibiting insider trading, but there is little public information showing that members of Congress have been investigated.

Recently, it was learned the Office of Congressional Ethics was looking at the trading activities of Rep. Spencer Bachus, Alabama Republican. In the two months surrounding the 2008 financial collapse and subsequent $700 billion economic bailout passed by Congress, Mr. Bachus made more than three dozen trades.

The OCE is an independent ethics office of the House, run by a board outside of Congress.

Mr. Bachus, now chairman of the House Financial Services Committee but then the panel’s senior Republican under a Democratic chairman, participated in closed briefings on the crisis by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Mr. Bachus has denied using inside information, and subsequent records show he incurred a net loss of $19,490.

Mr. Bachus has denied any wrongdoing.

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