The insider trading legislation signed into law on Wednesday may not be enough to turn around the public’s opinion of the U.S. Congress, but it’s a step in the right direction.
By overwhelming margins (96-3 in the U.S. Senate and 417-2 in the House), a measure was approved last month that prohibits members of Congress from trading stocks and other securities on the basis of confidential information they obtain as lawmakers. The law also makes clear that the insider trading ban applies to members of Congress and their aides, as well as officials in the federal government’s judicial and executive branches.
To most Americans, it seems like a no-brainer that lawmakers shouldn’t be able to base personal financial decisions on inside information they receive in confidential meetings. Unfortunately, it appears it was necessary to write that principle into law.
The issue of insider trading jumped to the public’s attention as a result of a report last November on the “60 Minutes” television news magazine. The show examined questionable dealings by three lawmakers: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker John Boehner and U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala. All three members of Congress responded to the report by saying they had done nothing wrong, but, less than a week later, legislation was introduced to institute an insider trading ban. The bill also requires lawmakers to disclose the purchase or sale of stocks, bonds, commodities futures and other securities within 45 days of the transactions, rather than doing it only once a year, which is now the requirement.
There is good reason for members of Congress to be concerned about their public image as they move toward November elections. Earlier this week, Rasmussen Reports released results of its most recent national telephone survey, in which only 6 percent of likely U.S. voters rated the performance of Congress as good or excellent. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed thought Congress was doing a poor job.
Passage of the insider trading legislation may or may not improve Congress’ job rating, but it at least indicates lawmakers want to boost public confidence in their integrity and honesty. It’s a start.