WASHINGTON House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi urged fellow Democrats on Wednesday to support a ban on insider trading by lawmakers but accused Republicans of weakening the bill by deleting some provisions passed by the Senate last week.
Pelosi said she supported the House version of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge, or STOCK Act, including a clause inserted by Republicans that calls attention to a controversial purchase of Visa Inc shares by her husband -- known as the "Pelosi provision."
In a slightly tongue-in-cheek tweet, Pelosi said she supported the provision and thanked Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor "for giving me an amendment."
The Pelosi provision expressly bans lawmakers and other government officials from receiving special access to initial public stock offerings. A probe by CBS' "60 minutes" show into stock trading by lawmakers highlighted her husband's participation in the Visa IPO in 2008 at a time when Congress was considering stiffer credit-card regulations.
Pelosi has denied her husband received special access to the IPO or any conflicts of interest.
The clean-government bill, which had been a rare model of cooperation, winning Senate approval by a vote of 96-3, sparked more partisan -- and bipartisan -- bickering on Wednesday.
The measure, which requires lawmakers and thousands of other government officials to disclose stock trades within 30 days, is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on Thursday.
'POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE' PROVISION DROPPED
Democrats and some Republicans criticized Cantor for deleting Senate amendments to the STOCK Act that would require the registration of gatherers of "political intelligence" under lobbying laws and give more powers to prosecutors to pursue public corruption and ban all gifts to public officials valued over $1,000.
Republican Senator Charles Grassley had proposed the provision to illuminate the secretive practices of such Washington insiders, who glean information about pending legislation from lawmakers and their staffs and sell it to hedge funds and other Wall Street investors who trade and profit on it.
"It's astonishing and extremely disappointing that the House would fulfill Wall Street's wishes by killing this provision," Grassley said in a statement. "The Senate clearly voted to try to shed light on an industry that's behind the scenes."
Instead, Cantor's House version of the bill directs the Congressional Research Service to study the political intelligence sector and its effect on financial markets and provide a report within one year of enactment.
A spokeswoman for Cantor, Laena Fallon, said more study was needed because the political intelligence provision had caused many concerns about First Amendment free speech and civil liberties issues from lawmakers, media and community groups. A key issue is how such professionals are defined.
"This provision was extremely broad and its impact would have raised more questions than it answered," Fallon said.
The changes also drew a rebuke from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who said the Senate bill was a product of bipartisan cooperation.
"It would be a shame if House Republicans, led by the majority leader, at the urging of Wall Street interests and other inside-the-beltway forces, watered down the tough, but commonsense measures supported by Republicans and Democrats alike," Carney told his daily press briefing.
A spokesman for Pelosi said she hoped some of the changes could be reversed after passage when the House and Senate seek to reconcile differences between their versions before sending the legislation to President Barack Obama, who has promised a swift signature.
Republican Senator John Thune, who voted to include the political intelligence provision, agreed with that approach.
"My guess is the House is going to do this their way and we'll end up in some conference committee and we'll probably work out the differences between the two and the Grassley amendment may be back in there," he told Reuters.
(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Peter Cooney)