WASHINGTON D.C. - Despite a growing tide of criticism over methods used to modify the STOCK Act and accusations that it has been fundamentally gutted, 1st District Rep. Tim Walz is defending the changes.
The STOCK Act, or Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, was signed into law last year with overwhelming support from the public and lawmakers. It was considered a bright spot of bipartisan cooperation and anti-corruption work. Walz, a Democrat in his fourth term, spent six years pushing for the bill. He was instrumental in its passage with support from U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (DFL-New York).
The bill prohibits members of Congress from using non-public information to their advantage in financial areas like the stock market. It also requires online publishing of financial disclosure forms from elected officials and top federal officials in a database.
But, major modifications to the STOCK Act that drew intense criticism from watchdog groups were quickly passed through both chambers of Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last month. Using mostly empty Congressional chambers and a motion called "unanimous consent," which only requires approval by all present members, the changes were passed in 10 seconds in the Senate and 14 seconds in the House.
The changes to the STOCK Act removed the online reporting requirement for congressional staffers and many executive branch workers, but it did not remove the requirement for members of Congress, the president, the vice president and a few other top federal employees. The change was brought up in response to a study by the nonpartisan National Academy of Public Administration over concerns with a few national security-related officials being required to report. The changes extended to officials and staffers beyond the study's focus.
The changes received criticism from watchdog organizations, accusing Congress of de-fanging the bill and providing legislators with ways to circumvent the purpose of the law.
Walz defends changes
Walz said he fully supports the changes to the STOCK Act and only regrets the imperfect way they were passed. The study gave him serious concerns about select top officials with the FBI or CIA being compromised with the online disclosure reporting, but he still accepts the changes extending beyond to Congressional staffers. The reports can still be obtained in person at the official federal buildings.
Walz feels the STOCK Act is unchanged, because the repealed parts were a compromise addition in Senate version of the bill.
"I'm frustrated with the way [the changes] were done," said Walz, "A narrative got out there. I don't blame the public for thinking that way."
Walz said the purpose of the bill was to make lawmakers subject to the same laws as the public and to restore public faith in Congress. He feels the first point is still being served. But, he feels the method used to pass the needed changes fundamentally destroyed the effort to restore faith in Congress.
Looking to the future of STOCK Act, Walz hopes to prove that legislators are serious about the reforms by seeking expansion of the law.
Last year, Walz pushed to include regulating political intelligence firms like lobbyists. Political intelligence firms operate by selling insider information they glean from politicians to businesses. Walz argued they constituted the same issues the STOCK Act sought to fix, but compromised to push for the provision later to ensure the core bill's passage.
Walz said he was discussing strategy on Wednesday with Slaughter to push hard for the provision and other expansion of the law.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)