The U.S. Senate has voted 96 to 3 to ban insider stock trades by members of Congress. If signed into law, legislators would face criminal penalties for buying or selling stocks based on non-public information given to lawmakers. Our correspondent reports the bill also mandates that members promptly disclose their stock trades in excess of $1,000.

President Obama endorsed the STOCK act in his State of the Union address. And the bill has strong support in the House of Representatives. About half of Americans own stocks, compared with virtually all members of Congress.

The STOCK Act was introduced several years ago, but could never garner more than nine co-sponsors. Congressmen Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Walter Jones (R-NC), Tim Walz (D-MN) , and Brian Baird (a Democrat who represented Washington state, but who has since left) were doing the early lifting on this bill. They were against congressional insider trading before it was cool. They should be applauded. Once the battle was on, Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) introduced a similar bill and became one of the most fierce in making sure the issue would not go away. Another warrior is Rep. Sean Duffy, a freshman from Wisconsin who recognizes that the STOCK Act is not nearly strong enough by itself and has proposed the RESTRICT Act, which must be passed next.

The passage of the STOCK Act in the Senate is just the first battlefield victory in this war for reform. The STOCK Act makes congressional insider-trading illegal. But let’s be clear: it alone doesn’t go nearly far enough to deal with the problems of cronyism and corruption that we face. It deals only with publicly traded stock, not equity buys in private companies. It does nothing to close the sweetheart deals involving IPO shares that can make politicians more money in one day than a bribe ever could. And insider-trading cases are very hard to win. On top of that, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department are unlikely to go after a powerful politician. Just look at what happened to the FBI when they were investigating Rep. William Jefferson, who famously took bribes and put the money in his freezer. There were threats to cut the FBI budget!

We need to also pass Duffy’s RESTRICT Act, which gives politicians a choice: put your assets in a blind trust or disclose within three business days any financial transactions. Transparency is the key here. That is how we hold them accountable.

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