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GOP, lobbyists partner to weaken STOCK Act

Last week, by a vote of 96 to 3, the Senate approved legislation to prohibit lawmakers from engaging in insider trading.

Last week, by a vote of 96 to 3, the Senate approved legislation to prohibit lawmakers from engaging in insider trading. It wasn't as strong a bill as it could have been, but the bill, known as the STOCK Act, wasn't a bad effort.

There is, however, another chamber in Congress.

Lobbyists were in a tizzy on Tuesday over provisions of a Senate-passed ethics bill that tighten regulation of lobbying and require secretive "political intelligence" firms to register in the same way as lobbyists.House Republicans and their floor leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, said they would amend the bill, going to the House floor this week, to strengthen it.But Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York, said, "I think 'strengthening' here is a euphemism for 'weakening.' "

To a certain extent, this isn't new.. When Congress worked on a jobs bill in 2010, Boehner and congressional Republicans huddled with corporate lobbyists. When work on Wall Street reform got underway, Boehner and congressional Republicans huddled with industry lobbyists. When Congress worked on health care reform, Boehner and congressional Republicans huddled with insurance lobbyists. When an energy/climate bill started advancing, Republicans huddled with energy lobbyists.

It's not exactly a surprise, then, that GOP leaders would coordinate with lobbyists on insider trading.

What is surprising, at least a little, is that even Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has accused his Republican counterparts in the House "of doing the bidding of Wall Street by removing a provision ... that would have required political intelligence firms to register in a similar fashion to lobbyists."

From The Hill's report:

The version of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act unveiled by House Republicans Tuesday evening contains weakened restrictions on the growing industry, in which companies market private congressional information to firms looking to make financial trades. The House bill simply requires a report on the industry.Grassley pushed an amendment to the Senate version requiring those companies to publicly register like lobbyists, and issued a furious statement after seeing it yanked from the House bill."It's astonishing and extremely disappointing that the House would fulfill Wall Street's wishes by killing this provision," he said in a statement. "If Congress delays action, the political intelligence industry will stay in the shadows, just the way Wall Street likes it."

Grassley isn't known for criticizing members of his own party, suggesting House GOP leaders are being especially brazen with this bill, even by the standards of House GOP leaders.

At issue is an effort to require those who collect intelligence from political insiders to register, just as lobbyists are required to do.

At present, Mr. Grassley said, when lawmakers and their aides meet with "political intelligence consultants," they have no way of knowing if the information they share will be sold to hedge funds, private equity firms or other investors who make a profit on it.Ms. Slaughter, who introduced insider trading legislation in 2006, said the regulation of political intelligence-gathering was "the most important part of the bill."

It's also the provision House Republicans and their lobbyist allies are most eager to kill.