Niagara Gazette

Editorials

March 28, 2012

EDITORIAL: Kudos on the STOCK Act

Rep. Louise Slaughter and a small band of colleagues in the House of Representatives deserve praise for their determination in putting a stop to a long-standing dirty secret in politics — that members of Congress have been making a boatload of cash by parlaying their official knowledge of the nation’s affairs into private fortunes on the stock market.

Slaughter, D-Fairport, began her fight to end insider trading by her colleagues in 2004, well before anyone was keen to the issue. For the ensuing years, she fought a losing battle to convince her colleagues to sign onto a bill, the STOCK Act, or Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act.

Slaughter and her allies got a significant boost by a “60 Minutes” report that highlighted the success members of Congress and their staff members have had in stock trading. The report exposed the fact that congressional representatives and the people who work for them had a regular practice of using information on legislation impacting various industries and subsequently made investment decisions that increased the likelihood they would benefit more than an average Joe.

This bill, which has passed Congress and President Obama has pledged to sign, makes such practices illegal. Specifically, it holds members of Congress to the same standards as everyone else.

If only we could hold members of Congress to the same standards as everyone else in all facets of their job performance. But we digress.

The STOCK Act, and Louise Slaughter’s dogged pursuit of it, is a very good piece of legislation that will help clean up the Capitol.

It is missing, however, one important component. A related issue has cropped up over the last decade called political intelligence, equally slimy and worthy of outlawing.

Former members of Congress and high-ranking staff members who leave public service frequently wind up as lobbyists. Their contacts and influence is invaluable to business interests seeking to influence legislation. An offshoot branch of lobbying finds former members as paid spies who root out information about pending legislation and sell that information — which isn’t available to the public — to hedge funds seeking an edge. This is another blatant form of insider trading and should be outlawed.

We’re heartened to see that Congress was shamed into action on important ethics reform — and equally grateful it was one of our hometown representatives who did the shaming. We encourage Slaughter to continue the fight and seek to outlaw political knowledge being nefariously culled and sold. It isn’t fair and it should absolutely be stopped.

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