Does Congress Have an Insider Trading Problem?

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 03:  House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks during her weekly media briefing at the U.S. Capitol, on November 3, 2011 in Washington, DC. Pelosi spoke about job creation and issues concerning the deficit cutting super committee.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Photo: Mark Wilson/2011 Getty Images

It’s way too easy for congressmen to benefit financially from inside information they glean from their positions as legislators, and many seem to have few qualms about exercising that advantage. That’s the takeaway from a new 60 Minutes report that aired last evening, which detailed the ways in which several congressman have seemed to profit from pre-knowledge of what legislation might pass. For instance, during the 2008 financial crisis, Republican representative Spencer Bachus allegedly purchased stocks based on information he’d learned from briefings to the House Financial Services Committee, of which he was then a member and now a chair. John Boehner bought insurance stock during the health care debate — as he was leading the fight against the public option. And Nancy Pelosi and her husband bought 5,000 shares of Visa stock during its IPO, while crucial credit-card regulatory legislation —which ultimately did not make it to debate in the House — was pending in Congress. (All denied any impropriety was involved in their stock purchases.)

Technically, this behavior isn’t illegal — at least for now — but it certainly doesn’t look great. One commentator who 60 Minutes interviewed referred to the practices highlighted as “honest graft,” which doesn’t sound like the sort of tagline congressmen are looking to have attached to their names.