Owens cheers bill on insider trading

Watertown Daily Times

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Washington, Feb 6, 2012 | Sean Magers (202-225-4611) | comments
WASHINGTON — Rep. William L. Owens said Friday he plans to vote for legislation banning insider trading by members of Congress, though last-minute changes could complicate the picture when the bill reaches the House floor next week.

“This clarifies what already exists,”
Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said in an interview, referring to the prohibition on lawmakers trading stocks based on non-public information they receive through their legislative work. Insider trading is already illegal, although experts debate exactly how existing law applies to Congress.

The House Republican leadership announced it would take up the bill this week, ending years of obscurity for a proposal first raised by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, in 2006. The Senate passed it overwhelmingly on Thursday, after several late-breaking amendments were added or debated.

“It’s largely fine. I’m going to have to look at those amendments,”
Mr. Owens said.

After languishing, the legislation suddenly gained momentum amid polling showing that public approval of Congress has sunk to new lows. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was a big champion of the bill in the Senate.

Changes made in the Senate include a requirement that lawmakers disclose information about the mortgages on their primary homes, information that they have not previously had to include on twice-annual financial disclosures. Political-intelligence gatherers, who track legislation and regulations with an eye toward profitable investments, would have to disclose their activities.

One of the more sensitive provisions passed in the Senate was a requirement that lawmakers and senior staffers disclose stock transactions within 30 days. That requirement could apply to some 300,000 federal employees, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the only Democrat to vote against the bill.

The bill frustrated some leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., as lawmakers tried to use it as a landing pad for other causes. The Senate defeated a proposal, for instance, to permanently ban home-state projects known as earmarks, which are already blocked through a congressional moratorium.

“That’s always problematic, but it’s very typical,”
Mr. Owens said of the free-wheeling debate in the Senate.

In the case of mortgage disclosures, Mr. Owens said, much of th e required information is already publicly available, albeit with greater effort.

And while the bill’s sudden momentum may have reflected a public relations push, Mr. Owens said, he has never heard constituents complain about allegations of insider trading in Congress. More often, he said, they have questions about lawmakers’ free health care or other perks.
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