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STOCK Act signed into law today

President Barack Obama signs the STOCK Act. Public Citizen President Robert Weissman is standing just behind Vice President Joe Biden.

We just returned from the STOCK Act bill signing. The measure, which bans insider trading by members of Congress, has been pushed by Public Citizen since 2006. Craig Holman, our government affairs lobbyist, in particular has put a huge amount of time into lobbying for the bill. It was Holman who gave “60 Minutes” the idea to do a piece on congressional insider trading when they called him last fall in search of ideas. So kudos to Craig!

The bill isn’t as strong as we would like. For instance, it doesn’t prohibit insider trading by so-called “political intelligence operatives” who prowl the halls of Congress for information to use in stock trading to disclose their clients and activities. But it’s good. As Holman said today:

“This is a good bill — the most significant ethics achievement of the 112th Congress. But it could and should be stronger, and legislation is pending to strengthen it. Wall Street didn’t want this, and Congress passed it only because they were shamed into it. Still, it is a good step.”

The signing ceremony itself was really short. It was done in an auditorium that holds about 100 people. There were a dozen TV cameras. Those who had been invited to attend came early … and waited. And waited. We watched the stage being set up and the presidential seal being affixed to a small stand that was placed in front of a ludicrously small desk. As my colleague Rick Claypool noted, the president got the most uncomfortable and smallest chair in the room. Cards were placed around the desk to indicate where lawmakers and others should stand. Public Citizen’s President, Robert Weissman, was among those who gathered around the desk.

President Barack Obama strode in, flashed his smile, talked about how there shouldn’t be one set of rules for some and another set for another, then proceeded to the tiny desk to sign the bill. He used 10 pens to sign his name. Then it was over. He waved to the audience and said “Good job all of you!” Then he ambled offstage.

It was a gratifying moment for Holman, who, like so many here at Public Citizen, works incredibly hard but rarely gets a chance to bask in a victory. “It’s kind of cool,” he said with a grin.