Both the House and Senate have now passed their respective versions of a bill known as the STOCK (Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge) Act to ban members of Congress from using private information to enrich their investments.
As the two chambers now hammer out the distinctions between the two bills, one major difference has emerged: whether to require so-called "political intelligence" firms, who scour Congress and leverage high-level contacts with Hill staffers to gather tidbits of valuable nonpublic information that can be sold to investment firms or others, to register as lobbyists. The Senate version of the bill contains such a provision; the House version does not.
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), the person responsible for adding the provision to the Senate version of the STOCK Act, says that requiring political intelligence operatives to register as lobbyists is simply a matter of common sense:
If you seek information from Congress in order to make money, the American people have a right to know your name and who you're selling that information to.
There's much at stake in whether or not the eventual STOCK Act will require political intelligence operatives to register as lobbyists. Experts say that the 300 political intelligence firms worldwide comprise a $100 million industry. Furthermore, many of the 2,000 individuals who make up the political intelligence industry are themselves former Hill staffers or members of Congress.
Proponents of Sen. Grassley's registration requirement say that, if adopted, the provision would provide voters with greater transparency. For example, political intelligence firms would be forced to make public their clients, rates, and names.
Since Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer declared war on cronyism with the publication of his New York Times bestselling book, Throw Them All Out, members of Congress and President Barack Obama have scrambled to portray themselves as standing against those who profit off the private access and insider status that comes with political power. How Congress settles the political intelligence registration requirement, says, Sen. Grassley, will tell voters much about whether their member of Congress is truly committed to ending the cronyism and insider profit-making that blights America's political system.
"If Congress delays action, the political intelligence industry will stay in the shadows," said Sen. Grassley, "just the way Wall Street likes it."