House GOP offers its own insider trading bill

LARRY MARGASAK Associated Press Published:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- New legislation from House Republicans would ban insider trading by thousands of federal officials and bar lawmakers who are convicted of a felony from collecting government pensions.

Part of the bill introduced late Tuesday takes direct aim at House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi by proposing to ban lawmakers from using their positions to gain special access to initial public offerings of stock. Pelosi has denied that she has done anything like that.

The GOP plan ignores an important part of the Senate's version that would have required "political intelligence" firms to register and file disclosure reports, as lobbyists must. These are companies that try to pick up information from lawmakers, then pass it on to investment firms and their clients.

The growing political intelligence industry had lobbied hard to get the Republicans to modify the Senate's plan or eliminate it in their version, making the argument that the requirement was too broad.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., went with a congressional study of these firms -- essentially taking no action.

New stock transactions would have to be reported either 30 days after someone who was covered by the legislation was notified of a transaction in his account, or 45 days after the transaction.

According to Cantor, the bill would apply to about 30,000 employees in the executive branch, including the president and vice president. President Barack Obama has said he would sign the legislation.

The measure is intended to help to boost Congress' approval ratings, now in the teens, by preventing lawmakers from trying to enrich themselves by using nonpublic information learned during their official duties.

Both the House and Senate bills added executive branch employees, who already are subject to tough conflict-of-interest rules, so that all federal policymakers play by the same ethical standards.

.Members of Congress and their staffs face the same penalties as other investors who attempt insider trading, though no member of Congress in recent memory has been charged with that offense.

In 2005, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department investigated then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's sale of stock in his family's hospital company, but no charges were brought against the Tennessee Republican.

On the pensions, the bill includes a long list of felonies that would trigger loss of the benefits, including bribery, fraud and perjury.

While the Senate passed its version of the bill 96-3 last week, House Democrats were furious that Cantor never consulted them about the emerging GOP plan.

House Republicans were considering bringing the bill to a vote Thursday under a procedure that would not allow any amendments.

That was especially galling to Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., who has been trying to get an insider trading bill passed for six years and has close to 300 co-sponsors, including nearly 100 Republicans.

Sponsorship of the bill by Slaughter and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., soared after a recent CBS "60 Minutes" segment that reported current and former members of Congress used information received during their official duties to invest in the stock market.

The show reported that Pelosi's husband invested in a Visa IPO in 2008 around the time the House, then under Democratic control, was considering legislation to lower credit card fees. Pelosi denied any wrongdoing, and said there was no connection between the investment and the legislation.

The bill passed two years later, and Pelosi voted for it. It did not pass in 2008, a Pelosi aide said, because it came to floor at the end of the session, when the House was passing the biggest bailout of financial institutions in the nation's history.

The aide, who was not authorized to be quoted by name to discuss the investment, said Pelosi's husband made the IPO purchase through his existing broker at Wells Fargo.  

The aide pointed out that the Visa IPO was among the largest ever at $17.9 billion.

"60 Minutes" also raised questions about stock purchases by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Both denied any wrongdoing.

The House is expected to pass the bill overwhelmingly, and congressional negotiators would have to reconcile it with the Senate's version.