Amendments to Tighten, Trim, and Tone the STOCK Act

Ninety-six to 3. It has a ring to it.

On Thursday, the Senate voted to pass the STOCK Act with a vote of 96-3. The act, which President Obama had urged Congress to pass, bans insider trading on non-public information and requires online disclosure of any trades within 30 days. Initially aimed at Congress, the disclosure requirements now apply to the Executive Branch, too. Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) were the only "no" votes. A similar bill has 253 co-sponsors in the House.

The final tally included votes on 17 of the 41 amendments introduced with the bill. Unlike the 2009 credit card bill, which included a very odd provision regarding guns in national parks, all of the amendments presented to the STOCK Act were directly related to restoring faith in the government.

Here's a review of the good, the bad, and the ugly in the amendments category.

Bribery, lobbying, and pensions
Members of Congress convicted of public corruption currently cost taxpayers $800,000 a year in pensions. After Sen. Richard Blumenthal's (D-Conn.) amendment passed yesterday, that number should decrease dramatically. The amendment says that representatives convicted of committing a felony while serving as elected officials will lose their pensions. It also revokes the congressional pensions of former representatives convicted of corruption while serving in any elected capacity.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also introduced an amendment that would require former members of Congress to forfeit federal retirement benefits if they work as a lobbyist or engage in lobbying activities. It failed.

Ending ambiguous corruption
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) offered an amendment aimed at closing loopholes in current anti-corruption laws, most notably one created by the Supreme Court in Skilling v. United States. In this case, against a former Enron executive, the court decreed that the federal law that makes it a crime to fail to provide an "honest service" applied only to bribery and kickback schemes. Leahy's amendment, which passed, increases sentencing for corruption cases, provides investigators and prosecutors more time to go after corruption, and clears up language that could be ambiguous or create further loopholes.

Mortgages, your elected officials, and you

While it might not put an end to shady land deals, a newly passed amendment from Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) requires Congress and the Executive Branch to disclose mortgage information on their residences, including the mortgage holder, date, range, and interest rate.

Also in the mortgage category is Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) amendment to prohibit bonuses for senior executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while the agencies are in conservatorship.

Reporting and transparency
Two amendments attempted to tweak the reporting requirements of the STOCK Act. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) proposed a 10-day reporting period, but the proposal was withdrawn.

Coburn, one of the three dissenting voters, introduced an amendment requiring all legislation be placed online for 72 hours before it is voted on by the Senate or the House. It was one of Coburn's four amendments, and it, too, was withdrawn.

An especially interesting addition to the list of amendments was from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who suggested that political intelligence agencies register like lobbyists. The management of the political intelligence industry was one key difference between the House and Senate versions of the act; the Senate version had previously called only for a study of the industry, while the House called for registration.

The "Come again?" amendment
Included in the list of passed amendments is one that should put Fools on alert, as it circumvents the reporting requirements of the STOCK Act and potentially leaves the possibility of day-trading on non-public information using ETFs. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) proposed an amendment that would remove mutual funds from the STOCK Act requirements. Says Dan Head, a spokesperson for Enzi, "Widely held funds cannot be influenced by members or staffers, so those funds have 'excepted' status for purposes of financial disclosures."

We're not so sure that ETFs can't be influenced. Foolish colleague Matt Koppenheffer, who went in-depth on the trading habits of lawmakers, can name off the top of his head two funds that could provide profitable trades for Congress members with an inside track. The SPDR Bank ETF would be a great way to trade inside information on banking regulations, while ultrashort bond funds were arguably used to play the debt-ceiling debate last year.

While Enzi owns mutual funds, none of his trades seem suspicious. However, in a law meant to close loopholes and eliminate ambiguity, this amendment adds both.

Notable 
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has been waging an ongoing battle to ban earmarks. While his amendment wasn't approved, the moratorium on earmarks that expires at the end of 2012 has been extended to all 2013 appropriations bills. Toomey will continue to fight for a permanent ban.

House of cards
The bill passed through the Senate quickly, considering then-Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) first introduced the bill into the House in 2006. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) introduced the bill in the Senate last November, for a three-month turnaround.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has received criticism for his delays in bringing the House version of the STOCK Act to a vote and has reportedly been watching the Senate vote for cues. With the unequivocal success of the STOCK Act, Cantor has said he'll schedule a vote in the House as early as next week and expects it to pass within the month. President Obama has repeatedly promised to sign it once it crosses his desk.

With 253 House co-sponsors, and a 96-3 vote in the Senate, the writing's on the wall. And we here at the Fool won't be satisfied until Congress is held fully accountable.

Matt Koppenheffer contributed to this article. Neither he nor Molly McCluskey owns shares of any securities mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 05, 2012, at 7:31 AM, Chauncey68 wrote:

    I must admit I'm impressed that congress is putting a check and balance on their money making scheme. I predicted they would amend to death and create ambiguity. Unfortunately the ETF exclusion is a game stopper. They can be used to go long and short; some are leveraged 2-3 times the weight and they can be used to buy options with a 100-1 weighting. And with inside information,if ever there was a get rich quick benefit left open, this is it. If congress passes this with this exception, president Obama should veto it. This one exception defeats the entire purpose of the bill. Please don't let them ,congress, use the age old excuse, we can fix any problems down the road.

  • Report this Comment On February 05, 2012, at 11:29 AM, XMFAlaska wrote:

    Hi Chauncey68, thanks for your comment. I tend to agree with you. While I like many of the amendments, this one raises huge issues for me and for most of us who covered this story. We'll keep you posted as we learn more.

  • Report this Comment On February 06, 2012, at 3:19 PM, DJDynamicNC wrote:

    It strikes me as plausible that the ETF amendment can be stricken from the House version. That'll force both bills to conference to come up with a single agreed-upon version for a final vote.

    We'll need to call our Representatives and ensure that they do not accept the ETF amendment in the House version, if that's the case.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2012, at 11:41 AM, XMFAlaska wrote:

    Hi folks. In case you missed it, Matt and I just wrote an update to the Enzi amendment. You can find it here: http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2012/02/22/the-amendme...

    Thanks for reading.

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