March 21, 2012

Public Corruption Provisions to the STOCK Act Withering on the Vine

By Jeremy Miller

Harry Reid on U.S. CapitolLate yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture to take up and pass the feckless House-version of the STOCK Act without any amendments.  Taking up the House-version means critical anti-corruption provisions included in the previously passed Senate version won’t see the light of day for the foreseeable future.  Moreover, caving to the House Republican leadership, which wants credit for passing legislation – as long as the legislation doesn’t actually do too much – is bad politics as well as policy.

CREW strongly supports the Senate version, which among other things contained bipartisan Leahy-Cornyn amendment that gives law enforcement officials important tools to detect and prosecute public corruption.  This provision, in part, responds to the Supreme Court’s decision in Skilling v. United States, which eviscerated the Honest Services Fraud statute, frequently used by prosecutors to target self-dealing.  It also amends the illegal gratuities statute to prevent public officials from accepting gifts given because of their governmental position, and makes clear public officials who accept private compensation may be subject to prosecution.

Further, the House Judiciary Committee – the most contentious committee in Congress – had unanimously passed nearly identical legislation late last year. With Congress’ approval ratings at an all-time low, passing the STOCK Act with these provisions should be a no-brainer.  So why was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor so intent on preventing these changes to the law?  And why is Sen. Reid playing into his hands?  Sen. Reid could just as easily file cloture to force a conference committee with the House, or allow amendments to be re-incorporated in the House bill and kick it back to the House for consideration.  

The House Republican leadership should be forced to explain why it refuses to hold self-enriching corrupt public officials accountable.  Passing the House-version of the STOCK Act will only confirm what most Americans believe: members of Congress are more interested in serving their own interests than the public interest.

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