Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the first member of Congress to post her official daily schedule, all of her earmark requests, and personal financial reports online, today announced a new reform agenda to make Congress more transparent, accountable and responsible.
Senator Gillibrand’s plan starts by passing the bipartisan STOCK Act, commonsense legislation she helped write and push through committee passage to make insider trading in Congress clearly and expressly illegal. On Monday the legislation overwhelmingly passed a key procedural vote in the Senate 93 to 2, sending the bill to the Senate floor to begin formal debate. The Gillibrand reform agenda also takes on special interest influence, makes all public government documents available online, and would allow U.S. Supreme Court proceedings to be televised.
“I haven’t been in Washington long, but it doesn’t take long to know exactly what’s wrong with it,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Middle class families deserve to have more faith in their representatives in Washington, and trust that our only interest is what’s best for them, not our own interests. It’s time to make members of Congress play by the same rules as everyone else, and to give all Americans a chance to make their voices heard rather than drowned out by the special interests that have too much power and influence. To solve the problems we face, and for our economy to thrive, we need to change the way Washington fundamentally works.”
THE GILLIBRAND REFORM AGENDA
1. Pass the Bipartisan STOCK Act to Ban Insider Trading in Congress
Currently, insider trading by members of Congress and their staff is not clearly prohibited by the Securities Exchange Act or Congressional rules. In addition to revising the statute to enable the Securities and Exchange Commission to prosecute cases of insider trading by members of Congress, the STOCK Act would also make it a violation of the rules of the House and Senate to engage in such activity. This creates more accountability so anyone who uses their role as a member of Congress to enrich themselves would be accountable not only to the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission, but also to Congress’s own ethics rules.
The version of the STOCK Act being voted on by the full Senate this week bars a member of Congress from engaging in insider trading or otherwise using nonpublic information for their own personal benefit, and clarifies that this provision constitutes a sufficient basis for the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate and prosecute members of Congress engaging in insider trading – including the “tipping” of non-public information. By incorporating feedback from witnesses at the December 1 committee hearing, the legislation directly corrects the ambiguity in existing laws to ensure that members of Congress, their families and their staffs are fully covered by insider trading laws. The legislation is carefully crafted to not alter existing insider trading law, but to simply ensure that members of Congress, their families, and their staff are fully covered by it.
Additionally, the most current version of the legislation further enhances disclosure requirements by requiring that members of Congress report stock and other major financial transactions within 30 days, and make that information available online, dramatically less than the current annual reporting requirement, and reduced from the 90 days proposed in the original draft of the legislation.
Lastly, the legislation directs the Congressional Ethics Committees to write rules to enforce this provision. As a result, the legislation would empower the Ethics Committees, as well as the SEC, to enforce rules against insider trading by members of Congress and Congressional staff, but would not require the 67 vote threshold required to directly amend Senate rules in mid-session.
The STOCK Act is supported by at least seven government reform groups, including: Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation and U.S. PIRG. The legislation has also garnered the support of legal experts like UCLA Professor Stephen Bainbridge.
2. Reduce Special Interest Influence
In the age of Citizens United, corporations and special interests have all but drowned out the voices of the average citizen. Super PACs are free to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on advertising to influence elections, and take advantage of disclosure loopholes so few can determine who’s paying for this influence or what their agenda is.
To make elections more fair and honest, Senator Gillibrand is cosponsoring legislation that would give Congress the authority to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal elections, including super PACs and independent expenditures, and give states the authority to regulate spending at their level.
3. Post Public Information Online
Too much of the information that guides legislation is inaccessible to the people it will affect the most. And when requested through the Freedom of Information Act, citizens too often to have to wait for prolonged periods of time to get the information they deserve access to, held up by needless bureaucracy.
To make government more accessible, Senator Gillibrand is cosponsoring the Public Online Information Act, legislation to make public records permanently available on the Internet at no taxpayer cost.
Under the bill, each federal agency must publish a comprehensive, searchable, machine-readable list of all records it makes publically available. The bill would also require a public catalog of all records released by the executive branch, and establish a Public Online Information Advisory Committee that would:
- Guide the government’s efforts to make information from all three branches available online; and
- Issue and update guidelines on how the government should make public information more available.
4. Broadcast U.S. Supreme Court Proceedings
Some of the most significant and far-reaching Supreme Court cases, such as Citizens United, Heller, Lawrence and Hamden, were all argued behind closed doors. Transcripts of arguments and audio recordings are posted online each week by the Supreme Court, giving Americans access to the justices’ rationale and questions for lawyers only in hindsight.
To make America’s highest court more transparent and accountable, Senator Gillibrand is cosponsoring legislation that would allow Supreme Court proceedings to be televised. The bill would require the Supreme Court to allow coverage of all open sessions, unless decided by majority vote that such coverage in a particular case would violate the due process of any party involved.