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Public Statements

Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I support the intent of the amendment offered by the Senator from Alabama. I think he is right, we need parity, as much as possible, in the disclosure requirements. I also believe he is correct the disclosure reports should be online so they are easily accessible. So the intent of his amendment is one I wholeheartedly support.

As Senator Lieberman does, I have some questions about the universe of Federal employees who would be covered by the amendment of the Senator from Alabama. We have been working successfully with the Senator from Kentucky, who first brought up this issue of parity, to make sure the scope of coverage is appropriate. It seems to me one way to solve these issues is to use a similar scope as we have agreed on with Senator Paul in the amendment that Senator Shelby has brought forth. We would then have a certain consistency that we had vetted the universe of Federal employees that should be covered. That seems to me to be a very appropriate and relatively easy fix to this issue.

I do want to emphasize that I agree with Senator Shelby that those Federal employees should be required to file in the same timeframes as Members of Congress and their staffs, and that certainly those reports should be accessible online.

Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I want to comment briefly on the amendment that has been proposed by the Senator from California to the legislation written by Senator Brown. Senator Gillibrand has a similar bill as well, and I want to explain to our colleagues what the state of the current law is, which I think would be helpful.

Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, there is an exemption from disclosure for mortgages secured by real property that are the personal residence of the reporting individual or his spouse.

Under the liabilities section of that same report, which we now file annually, liabilities in excess of $10,000 must be reported that are owed by the Member, the spouse, or the dependent child to any one creditor during any time during the reporting period. Credit card debts, for example, are reported. Other kinds of loans are reported. Mortgages held on investment properties--properties, for example, that are rented--are reported. The exemption only goes to the personal residence of the Member and/or the Member's spouse.

I am unclear, and need to get clarification from Senator Boxer and also the Office of Government Ethics, whether her amendment would extend the new disclosure requirement that she is proposing to executive branch employees or whether it would only apply to the legislative branch. As I read her amendment, it looks as though it only applies to the legislative branch and perhaps only to Members.

I would ask, through the Chair, if the Senator from California could clarify for me--this is truly an informational question--whether she is intending this new requirement to apply to congressional staff and whether she is intending this new requirement to apply to executive branch members who are currently required to file an annual financial disclosure form.

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Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from California for clarifying that issue and answering my question.

I guess my further question would be, why would we only apply it to Members of Congress and not apply it to members of the executive branch? For example, I would argue that if there are conflict of interest issues or allegations of a sweetheart deal for mortgages that might be revealed by this disclosure, that that would apply equally to, say, Treasury officials--in fact, even more so to Treasury officials or bank regulators--as it would Members of Congress.

I wonder if the Senator's intent is to make sure that Members are not getting sweetheart deals on their mortgages--which obviously no Member should be receiving a sweetheart deal on a mortgage--why that same logic would not apply to executive branch officials, particularly since arguably they have far more direct influence and jurisdiction and regulatory authority over financial institutions than do Members of Congress.

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Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, the reason I am raising this issue--I realize the Senator from California has not had the misfortune I have had, of being constantly on the floor listening to the debate on this bill--but a major issue we have been grappling with is parity in the rules. This issue has not just come up with regard to the amendment of the Senator from California, it has come up over and over.

I am not in any way singling out the Senator from California to raise this issue. This has come up on every single issue we have been tackling on the floor, which is, if we are going to have more disclosure for the legislative branch, should we not have the exact same or comparable disclosures for high-ranking executive branch officials?

The issue I raised, I wish to assure the Senator from California, is no means unique to her amendment. It has come up over and over and, indeed, the first amendment that we were supposed to have voted on last night was an amendment by Senator Paul, making clear that this bill applied to the executive branch and then Senator Shelby had an amendment to make sure there was online disclosure by the executive branch.
This is an issue that has permeated the entire debate on the STOCK Act. It is not unique to the issue that has been raised by the Senator from California.

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Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, first, let me make the point to the Senator from California, I am a cosponsor of the STOCK Act. I cosponsored Senator Brown's bill, so it is not that I do not think legislation is needed in this area. I am a cosponsor on this bill and have commended him for his work. But the fact remains that in our committee markup the bill was changed.

I know the Senator was distracted when I answered that question. The bill was changed in committee to extend to the executive branch. It is in the bill that is before us now. The Senator was misinformed in that regard. The bill was changed to make very clear that the insider trading prohibition applied to the executive branch and that executive branch members have a duty to their agencies, to the government. We make that explicit. That was changed in committee.

The Senator is not correct that the bill that was brought to the floor only applied to Congress. It does not. It applies to the executive branch.

The second point I will make is this is not a partisan issue. We have bills on both sides of the aisle. We have amendments on both sides of the aisle. Indeed, we have disclosure amendments that apply to the executive branch coming from both sides of the aisle. Senator Wyden has a disclosure amendment that is similar to that of Senator Shelby's. We are working with both of those offices right now to try to work those out.

I do not know how this all of a sudden became a partisan debate or a debate about the Bush administration or anything. This is a debate about good government and how we can best assure the American people that, regardless of whether public officials are in the executive branch or the legislative branch, they are putting the public's interests ahead of their private interests and that they are not profiting from insider information, nonpublic information that is not available to the public which they are using inappropriately--if, in fact, that is even happening--for personal gain.

I did wish to clarify that the bill, as reported from committee, does apply to the executive branch as well as the legislative branch, that the statement made by the Senator was inaccurate in that regard, and that we have amendments on both sides of the aisle that we are working on right now to extend the disclosure requirements, the reporting requirements to the executive branch. Those are amendments coming from both Democrats and Republicans.

I would like to yield at this point to the Senator from Massachusetts.

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Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I do not know why the Senator from California, first of all, is assuming I am somehow opposed to her amendment. I have not said that. What I raised was a very legitimate question of asking whether she had considered extending it to the executive branch.
Then her response seems to be an attack; that if I have information that there are problems and sweetheart deals in the executive branch, I should prove them.

I am not making allegations. I do not make unsubstantiated allegations against individuals. What I was trying to tell the Senator from California is that the issue of the scope and applicability of this bill has come up over and over. It came up in committee. We changed the bill in committee to make it clear that the prohibition against insider trading and a duty applied to the executive branch as well as to the legislative branch.

I have not criticized her amendment in any way. I asked a series of questions about the scope of her amendment because this issue has come up repeatedly, on both sides of the aisle. It came up in committee during our markup. It has come up on the Senate floor repeatedly as far as what the disclosure requirements should be and to whom they should apply.

I am the one who is baffled by the response of the Senator from California, since I have not indicated any opposition whatsoever to her amendment.

I have merely brought up the fact that the issue of the scope of this bill has come up repeatedly, so I was curious why she chose to have such a narrow bill rather than applying it to executive branch officials who filed the same kinds of disclosure.

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