WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Richard Burr was one of just three senators who opposed a new bill that explicitly prevents members of Congress and their staffs from using nonpublic information for insider trading.
The Winston-Salem Republican characterized the time spent debating the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act as "ludicrous" when existing laws are already in place that address insider trading. The laws apply to all Americans, including members of Congress, he said.
"We're doing this at a time when we should be talking about the economy and jobs," he said. "...Why do (Americans) think so little of us? Because we're not even debating the things that are most important to them."
The STOCK Act was thrust to the national forefront after a November report on CBS's "60 Minutes" raised questions about the stock trades of several members of Congress, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the husband of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Both denied wrongdoing.
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Burr's vote against the measure brought closer scrutiny to his own stock portfolio. The Huffington Post reported on Saturday that Burr owns investments in the natural-gas industry that could benefit from legislation he co-sponsored offering tax credits for natural gas-fueled vehicles.
Burr held about $400,000 worth of stock in several industries, including energy, technology and entertainment, according to his most recent filings covering the 2010 calendar year.
He had more than $24,000 worth of Chesapeake Energy Corp, the country's second-largest natural gas producer, according to the filings. He had more than $17,000 worth of Loews Corp., whose subsidiaries include natural gas exploration and production companies and off-shore drilling companies.
"This is what you would expect from tabloid journalism," Burr said Monday of the Huffington Post article. "I disclose all of my financial information every year, and it is available for all the public to see. The very fact that this information is so easily accessible underscores my vote against a bill that wasted ... taxpayer time and money."
Supporters of the STOCK Act say the bill is necessary to make clear that Congress must play by the same rules as everyday Americans and not take inside knowledge and profit from it.