The STOCK Act and the Political Intelligence Industry: No Easy Answers


Investors who hire political intelligence firms to collect information from government sources should take notice of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, according to panelists at a recent American Bar Association event. The panel, which included Stephen Cohen of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, gathered in the wake of recent scandals and increased government scrutiny of the political intelligence industry—in particular, the SEC’s investigation of Height Securities, a political research and advisory firm. According to The Wall Street Journal, on April 1, 2013, Height Securities alerted investors to a government decision to reverse funding cuts to certain health-care companies before the agency formally announced its decision. In the 18 minutes before the markets closed, investors traded the suddenly promising health-care stocks, making exorbitant profits.


Under the STOCK Act, investors who rely on material, non-public information obtained through government channels can be liable under the federal securities laws for insider trading. Irrespective of the Act, insider-trading laws prohibit trading in securities while in possession of material non-public information obtained in breach of a fiduciary duty. The Act explicitly expanded insider-trading restrictions to members of Congress and legislative branch employees, and made clear that a government employee owes a duty to the United States with respect to material non-public information derived from his or her position.

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