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It's official. On Thursday, March 22, 2012, the U.S. Senate passed by near unanimous vote a bill to Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge. A bill that (in theory at least) will put an end to members trading stocks with the use of inside information, known to them from their work as representatives -- but unknown to most of the people they were elected to represent.

Six years in the making, the bill died three times in committee, got sidelined in the House in 2011, and was assaulted by a horde of mutant amendments in the Senate in early 2012. But it survived.  After winning with landslide votes in both the Senate and House in February, the STOCK Act was adopted by a 96-3 vote in the Senate yesterday, and now heads to President Barack Obama's desk for signing.

The lowdown on the STOCK Act
What does the STOCK Act do? Basically, it boils down to three big things:

First and foremost, the act explicitly states that members have a duty to the United States and its citizens, and to the institution of Congress itself, to keep confidential any material information they come into possession of in the course of performing their duties. That sounds like a "well, duh!" statement to most of us, but legal scholars have been debating for years whether such a duty actually exists in law.

Now we know it does, because the law says it does. As a result, the entire history of SEC regulation of insider trading can now be applied in full to members of Congress.

Second, the act forbids public officials, including members of Congress, from using their government office to obtain preferential access to hot IPOs.

Third, to help voters ensure that Congress is doing what it's now legally obliged to do (and not do the things it's now legally forbidden from doing), the act requires members of Congress (and senior members of the executive branch) to disclose their trading activity within 30 days after placing a trade. That's different than the current disclosure requirement, which had trades and disclosures being separated by as much as 17 calendar months. Further improving the system currently in place, these disclosures will need to be made electronically, in standardized form, and will be open to the public for review.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good
Cynics will no doubt point out that a key amendment to the Senate version of the STOCK Act, requiring political intelligence firms to register as lobbyists do now, is missing from the act passed by Congress yesterday. They'll note that certain other beneficial provisions, such as tightening rules on gift-giving to government officials, also fell by the wayside. They'll say, in short, that the law isn't as good as it might have been. That it isn't "perfect."

No argument there. But then again, few laws passed in a democracy of competing interests pass the "perfection" test. In this Fool's opinion, though, I say the STOCK Act is good enough, and it's considerably better than what we had before it was passed, which was... nothing. There was no clarity on whether trading on congressional knowledge was illegal. There were no disclosure requirements worth much more than the scraps of paper that the disclosures were (often literally) scribbled upon. Nothing.

Foolish takeaway
There's a reason we here at the Fool have worked for oh-so-many-months (years, even) to get this law a fair hearing before Congress. There's a reason opponents of the STOCK Act fought for six long years to keep this bill from becoming law, and I submit to you that that reason probably isn't that they thought the law would not work, or that it wasn't worth passing.

It was worth passing. You were right to support it. And when Obama signs the STOCK Act into law, you deserve to give yourself a pat on the back.

Here at The Motley Fool, we thank you for your support. (Everyone click the link, and sing along now.)

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own (or short) shares of any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Read/Post Comments (16) | Recommend This Article (48)

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 March 23, 2012, at 4:35 PM, 1spring wrote:

    are you all as tired as I by these teasers at the end of stories? feel a lot like spam, and make me feel the wrong sort of fool.

  • Report this Comment On March 23, 2012, at 4:42 PM, Clint35 wrote:

    That's absolutely wonderful. I agree the law isn't perfect but I'm still very glad it passed, in any form. The disclosure time allotment is an incredible improvement; from 17 months down to 30 days! Wow! Congratulations to everyone here at TMF for letting the public know about the lack of this law and for keeping up coverage until it was passed. I'm sure you guys (and ladies) played a big part in getting it passed just by letting the public know about what was going on. Thank you.

  • Report this Comment On March 23, 2012, at 6:13 PM, dennyinusa wrote:

    This is what all good investment organization should do; educate people to things that put us at a disadvantage. Then together we can work to correct the problem. I thank TMF for this information and the work they are doing to level the playing field for everyone.

  • Report this Comment On March 23, 2012, at 6:14 PM, rrlemur1 wrote:

    Thanks for your work on this MF!

  • Report this Comment On March 23, 2012, at 8:01 PM, CaptainWidget wrote:

    What's so bad about insider trading?

  • Report this Comment On March 23, 2012, at 9:54 PM, Gyre07 wrote:

    Great job MF! You're certainly on Congress's hit list now. And mine as well, for being a positive agent of change.

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2012, at 5:27 AM, Bujutsu wrote:


  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2012, at 8:33 AM, skypilot2005 wrote:

    A complete waste of MF resources.

    Not unique.

    Time would have been better spent researching stocks.

    Making money off of investment research is why I come here.

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2012, at 8:55 AM, Morgana wrote:

    Congratulations FM. As per usual, you understand and fought for the long term benefits and for transparency: a totally perfect use of MF resources because we all--ideally--will benefit. I, for one, appreciate, the integrity behind the move. Thank you.

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2012, at 9:03 AM, KeenSkeptic wrote:

    Well, I guess there's no good reason for me to run for Congress anymore......

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2012, at 10:26 AM, EnjoyingLifeNow wrote:

    His name is Mr.Obama or President Obama.

    I don't care if you like him or not. He is our President. There is no respect anymore in this country.Shame on you MF.

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2012, at 11:13 AM, Minow wrote:

    Yeah right, they passed the law alright, but there's probably loopholes in there, because you have to remember who you're dealing with...LOL, The Career-U.S. Congressmen and women are crafty...if they can vote themselves pay raises, create a 2000 page health care bill that some them haven't completely read or understand and serve life long terms on the hill, what does that tell you about our elected officials?

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2012, at 11:44 AM, deckdawg wrote:

    Tilting at windmills. There is no law that can be passed which will prevent elected officials from using their office to promote their own interests. "Campaign Finance Reform", the STOCK act and all other such efforts are exercises in futility, and simply give these guys an opportunity to be seen as upholding integrity. "Mr." Obama is a great example. A loud supporter of campaign finance reform, he promptly turned his back on it when he saw he could raise much more money the old fashioned special interest route.

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2012, at 12:08 PM, NGBSA wrote:

    Interesting take on the bill-soon-to-be-a-law, but has anybody actually read the bill? It is so VERY unlike congress to pass high-sounding legislation that doesn't have goodies tucked inside. Even more unlike them to pass a bill that isn't riddled with loopholes.

    On the other hand, I really think that TMF should stay out of the lobbying or legislating business. That is DEFINITELY not a purpose I want my subscription money to be spent for.

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2012, at 12:16 PM, NGBSA wrote:

    Could we lose some of the in-your-face spam? I am SO tired of the teasers and am quickly tiring of the video clips. If the Fool is determined to produce videos, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE include a transcript below so that those of us who can read don't have to waste time waiting for the video to load and then spend minutes to see if there is something of interest. I would be more entertained by wit and thoughtful perspective than another knockoff of "Click and Clack."

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2012, at 10:59 PM, dividendgrowth wrote:

    What a pity! Now I can't follow Nancy Pelosi anymore. V and MA were such great tips.

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