Congress Passes Brown's Insider Trading Bill

In a sweeping 417-to-2 vote Thursday, the House of Representatives passed legislation introduced by Sen. Scott P. Brown that bans members of Congress from participating in insider trading and requires them to disclose all personal stock transactions.

Brown filed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act in the Senate on Nov. 15, and it was approved by a wide margin last week. The House version that passed Thursday differed from the bill approved in the Senate, though, removing a provision to regulate the information provided to hedge funds and mutual funds. The two bills must be reconciled before President Barack Obama can sign the bill into law as he has pledged to do.

In recent weeks, the STOCK Act has been hailed by Democrats and Republicans, including Brown, as a matter of good governance and common sense. But Massachusetts political analysts have suggested that Brown’s interest in the bill is based more on his own political strategy in the U.S. Senate race against Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren than the actual substance of the legislation.

“This measure has to be seen as part of a giant mosaic of a narrative that Brown is trying to create for himself,” said Michael Goldman, a Democratic political consultant in Massachusetts. “He is an extremely wealthy individual who most people in the state do not realize is not a citizen legislator.”

But Republican analysts have said that the legislation was purely a policy issue.

“This was exposed, and he reacted,” said Alicia Preston, a former consultant for Brown. “That’s called being a leader. That’s why he was elected.”

Still, political analysts say that Brown has tried, as he did in 2010, to position himself as an independent everyman of sorts to appeal to Massachusetts voters who are typically farther to the left than the mainstream Republican party.

“This is not going to be a campaign about the issues. This is going to be a campaign about how these two candidates connect with the electorate,”  said M. Marty Linsky, a lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School. “It’s critical for Brown to maintain the kind of independent posture that he’s worked very hard to create.”

The STOCK Act comes at a time when the personal finances and investments of Congressmen and candidates across the country have come under a great deal of scrutiny.

In January, Brown’s campaign criticized Warren upon the release of her tax returns, calling her out of touch and hypocritical. Warren’s returns showed that the consumer advocate received over $700,000 in compensation in the previous two years.

Political analysts said Brown is using the legislation as a chance to distance himself from similar arguments that could potentially upset his own populist narrative.

“Until Elizabeth Warren decided to run against Scott Brown, he had no interest in reforming anything to do with Wall Street, including insider trading,” Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh wrote in an email. “The STOCK Act is just the latest attempt by Brown to distance himself from Wall Street and the GOP leadership.”

Brown’s campaign released a radio advertisement earlier this week publicizing the bill and highlighting what Brown has decried an unfair advantage enjoyed by Congress.

“Serving in elective office is a privilege, not an opportunity for personal gain,” Brown said in the ad.

Though Congress has attempted to tackle insider trading within its ranks in the past, Brown’s involvement beginning last November marked the first time a Republican had taken leadership on the initiative.

—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at nicholasfandos@college.harvard.edu.

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