This vote was on an amendment by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) that would require all senior federal employees in the executive branch to publicly disclose their activity in the stock market.
Sen. Shelby’s amendment was offered during consideration of the STOCK Act, a bill to prevent members of Congress from using their access to inside information to profit in the stock market. One key feature of the STOCK Act is its requirement that Congressional members and employees report their activity in the stock market. The goal of this requirement is to safeguard against conflicts of interest and make insider trading easier to detect.
Sen. Shelby’s amendment expanded that requirement to include senior employees in the executive branch, as well. He argued that executive branch officials, such as those who work at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), have an equal risk of conflicts of interest and should, therefore, be subject to equal standards of transparency.
“Let's not make Congress transparent while leaving the executive branch and independent agencies in the dark,” Sen. Shelby said. “The SEC, which has access to vast financial markets information, should be held to the same standards it has been charged with enforcing.”
Opponents of Sen. Shelby’s amendment noted that it would have required public disclosure from more than 300,000 federal employees. Many of these employees are career civil servants, not high-level political appointees.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) argued that Sen. Shelby’s standard was “too broad.” Executive branch employees are already subject to tough ethics requirements, he said, and the costs of complying with such an expansive requirement would outweigh the benefits. Sen. Lieberman introduced an alternative amendment that limited the disclosure requirement to about 2,000 top officials. Sen. Lieberman’s amendment passed 81-18 just minutes before the vote on Sen. Shelby’s amendment.
Sen. Shelby’s amendment, which would subject hundreds of thousands of federal executive branch employees to public disclosure requirements, was passed on a 58-41 vote. Voting “yea” were 46 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 41 Democrats, including a majority of progressives. As a result, the bill moved forward with a requirement that hundreds of thousands of federal employees disclose their investment activities publicly.