Lawmakers Deny Insider Trading in ‘60 Minutes’ Report

Posted November 13, 2011 at 7:49pm

Updated: 10:30 p.m.

Members of Congress may be personally profiting from insider information they gather while legislating, according to a “60 Minutes” report that aired tonight.

A segment on the long-running TV news show noted that insider-trading laws do not apply to Members of Congress, highlighting several suspiciously timed deals in which lawmakers profited.

The examples came from Peter Schweizer, a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution think tank at Stanford University, but “60 Minutes” said it verified all of the information in them.

* Rep. Spencer Bachus bought stock option funds that would profit if the market crashed just before the financial meltdown of 2008. As then-ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, the Alabama Republican had received closed-door briefings from then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on the impending financial crisis. His office issued a statement saying he never trades on non-public information.

* Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), then House Minority Leader, bought stocks in private health insurance companies in the days before the government-run public option was removed from the Democratic health care overhaul bill. A Boehner spokesman said a financial adviser he consults once a year makes all of his investment decisions.

“I have not made any decisions on day-to-day trading activities in my account and haven’t for years,” Boehner told “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft during a news conference last week. “I do not do it, haven’t done it and wouldn’t do it.”

* House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her husband participated in an initial public offering from Visa when she was Speaker, around the time that legislation affecting credit cards was being considered in the House. Pelosi told Kroft at a recent news conference that the idea that those were related was a “false premise.”

“I will hold my record in terms of fighting the credit card companies as Speaker of the House or as a Member of Congress up against anyone,” she said.

The report also highlighted real-estate deals tied to earmarks secured by former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

A senior GOP aide defended Boehner, saying that his opposition to the public option was a natural policy position favored by conservatives and that it was removed from the health care bill after infighting among Democrats.

“The idea that the Republican leader in the House opposed the ‘public option’ — policy favored by the left of the left — for personal profit is, frankly, stupid,” the aide said.

A source familiar with the issue said that Boehner’s investments in health care came at the behest of his financial adviser, who also recommended a suite of other “blue-chip stocks” to replace a retirement fund associated with his former business.

In a statement today, Pelosi’s office said that her husband’s participation in the Visa IPO was not “preferential” and came at the recommendation of his broker at a Wells Fargo in San Francisco.

Her staff added that Schweizer has previously written books criticizing liberals.

“It is very troubling that ‘60 Minutes’ would base their reporting off of an already-discredited conservative author who has made a career [out of] attacking Democrats,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in the statement.

He added that the credit card legislation mentioned in the piece was reported out of the Judiciary Committee while the House was “consumed” with the Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout.

Hammill also said that the House passed the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights in September 2008, a proposal that became a law in the next session of Congress, along with the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, which limited credit card fees.

John Stanton contributed to this report.