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STOCK Act advances in the Senate

(CBS) - In a move aimed at improving transparency and voter confidence in Congress, the Senate on Monday voted to advance a bill to stop so-called "congressional insider trading."

By a vote of 93 to 2, the Senate agreed to proceed with debate on the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge, or STOCK Act. The legislation specifically prohibits federal lawmakers from trading stocks based on nonpublic information they have obtained in the course of their congressional work.

"Members of Congress and their staffers have the duty to the American people," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor today. "They may not use privileged information they get on the job to personally profit, but the perception remains that a few members of Congress are using their positions as public servants to serve themselves instead... The STOCK Act will clear up any perception that it's acceptable for members of Congress to profit from insider trading."

Senators Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., voted against the motion. Five senators did not vote: Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

Like everyone else, members of Congress are subject to current insider trading laws. However, some contend that current insider trading laws do not apply to nonpublic information about current or upcoming congressional activity, since members of Congress aren't technically obligated to keep that information confidential. So, for instance, if a lawmaker learns an upcoming bill will grant a company a large government contract, which could boost that company's stock, he or she is free to buy that stock ahead of the bill's public introduction.

The issue of "insider trading" in Congress came to the fore after a piece on CBS News' "60 Minutes" shed new light on the matter, and in his State of the Union address, President Obama called on members of Congress to send him "a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress; I will sign it tomorrow."

Congress: Trading stock on inside information?
CBSNews.com Series: United States of Influence

A House Republican leadership aide told CBS News that lawmakers will take up their version of the STOCK Act by the end of February. House Republicans plan to expand the legislation beyond the Senate bill to include non-stock investments and also include executive branch officials and employees.

"Building upon the Senate bill, this common-sense proposal will not only deal with insider trading of stocks, but also prevent all federal officials and employees from using insider information for profit in other areas in a constitutionally sound way," Laena Fallon, a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, told CBS News. "As Leader Cantor has said, he strongly supports increased disclosure to prevent any sense of impropriety and ensure the public's confidence and trust in our elected officials."

The legislation has won bipartisan support, though some members of Congress have complained that the focus on the issue is overblown and has become a "witch hunt."

Ahead of Monday's vote, the Obama administration put out a statement of support for the legislation, saying "it will help to limit the corrosive influence of money in politics and ensure that the Congress is playing by the same set of rules as everyone else, an important component of the President's Blueprint for an America Built to Last."

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