A few of us at Sunlight are excited to be going to the bill signing ceremony for the STOCK Act (S. 2038) in a few hours.
Over the course of the last six months, Sunlight also had a strong hand in shaping some of the provisions in the bill. We guarded against the possibility that the bill would criminalize congressional leaks, and shaped the online disclosure provisions of the bill (requiring downloadable data access for both personal financial disclosures and for new transaction disclosures). We also successfully pushed for the new financial transaction disclosures to be made publicly, which earlier drafts of the bill didn’t require (see the second #3 here).
There’s plenty of disappointing news in the bill. It doesn’t address political intelligence firms (as Lisa has covered often), and the honest services provisions got removed (intended to help with prosecutions of corrupt public officials). The bill also requires information to be destroyed after six years, which is a ridiculous, wasteful requirement that undermines accountability and appropriate preservation of important historical materials. The bill also left out the sale and purchase of real estate, even while requiring the disclosure of mortgage terms.
But on balance, the bill is a step forward. The CBS exposé led to appropriate reforms, primarily: clarifying within each branch that personal benefit is not permissible through privileged information, asserting that there is no congressional exemption to insider trading laws, and requiring significant new information to be disclosed online.
We’ll be watching closely to be sure that the provisions are implemented strongly.
And we’ll also be pushing for stronger reforms. The STOCK Act was just one vehicle for ethics and transparency reform in Congress, and a response to a particularly objectionable idea — representatives seeking to make a private profit through their public service. There are 20 more exposés like the CBS story just waiting to happen.
Our lobbying disclosure laws are easily evaded, and huge amounts of undisclosed and unlimited donations are flooding into our elections. Political intelligence firms are still collecting essential information about Congress’s work and selling it to the highest bidder.
Congress should take a long, hard look at how this scandal came about, and compare it to the process by which the STOCK Act was passed. Our ethics and transparency laws deserve thoughtful, sustained attention. The STOCK Act process was more like a game of hot potato.
So at the bill signing today we’ll be happy to see a small step forward as a response to overt corruption. But we’ve got more serious problems than insider trading, and we’ll be working to address them too.