- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee approved a bill Wednesday that would prohibit members of Congress and their employees from using nonpublic information to enrich themselves.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee sent the legislation to the full Senate. A similar bill is before a House committee, but it’s doubtful that the legislation will be considered this year.

The Senate bill would extend many of its restrictions throughout the federal government, but the potential impact is unclear because each agency already has restrictions on use of nonpublic information.

A provision that only applies to lawmakers and their staffs would require disclosure of any stock or commodities transaction of $1,000 or more within 30 days. The reports would be available online. Currently, members of Congress and their top employees list their financial transactions on annual financial disclosure forms.

The committee also ordered a one-year congressional study on the role of so-called political intelligence firms, which try to learn inside information from lawmakers and their staffs and pass it along to private clients.

Original sponsors of the legislation sought to have these firms register with Congress, as lobbyists do now. However, committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said more needs to be learned about these firms, and he promised to conduct a hearing next year.

The CBS’ “60 Minutes” recently reported on members of Congress who may have made money using information learned through their congressional work. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., sponsored separate bills to ensure that federal law prohibiting this practice applied to Congress. Lieberman consolidated the two bills into a single piece of legislation.

“Members of Congress need to live by the same rules as everyone else, and it must be clear that public service can never be abused for private gain,” Brown said. “With the approval of Congress at an all-time low, the full Senate now has the opportunity to pass this bill and begin rebuilding its reputation with the American people.”

Gillibrand added, “This is not a Democratic or Republican idea. It is a common sense idea gaining momentum every day with bipartisan support.”

The House bill, introduced by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., has 235 co-sponsors from both parties.

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