Duncan pushes for regulation of ‘political intelligence industry’

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. hasn’t figured out a way to stop operatives from getting inside information from the federal government and selling it to Wall Street investors, but he at least wants to regulate it, reports Michael Collins.

“I don’t see how anyone could argue that political intelligence activity should be allowed to continue behind closed doors to the benefit of only a very few elites,” the Knoxville Republican said.

Duncan and two Democrats — U.S. Reps. Louise Slaughter of New York and Tim Walz of Minnesota — are pushing legislation that would for the first time shed light on the political-intelligence industry, a $400-million-a-year business that trades in Washington’s greatest commodity: Insider information.

Here’s how it works:

High-placed professionals leave their jobs at the White House, Congress or some government agency after a few years and move into the private sector. They then go back to their friends in the government — often at the very same agency where they used to work — gather information about upcoming regulations or announcements that aren’t yet public and sell the materials to Wall Street, where they’re used to influence investment decisions.

The practice is legal, and “there’s really no way we’ve figured out just yet that we could make that illegal,” Duncan said. “But we could certainly make it public that they are doing this.”

Enter Duncan-Slaughter-Walz.

Their bill, the Political Intelligence Transparency Act, would subject those who engage in political intelligence to the same regulations and requirements as lobbyists. The rules would mean operatives in the political intelligence field would have to disclose their names, clients and fees. Public officials also would be barred from working in the political intelligence industry for one to two years, depending on the job they held in the government.

“What we are saying in this bill is let’s give it light of day — let’s bring it out into the open what’s being done,” Duncan said.

Slaughter, who teamed up with Duncan several years ago on a bill to protect students from credit card debt, said the political intelligence industry “has operated in the shadows of Washington for too long.”

“Our constituents did not send us to Congress so we could be a whisper gallery for Wall Street,” she said.

It’s not the first time Duncan has championed legislation that promotes transparency in government. He has been on a campaign for 15 years to require donations to presidential libraries be made public.

The political intelligence bill that he and the others are pushing includes an exemption for the media to collect and disseminate information from government sources.

“What we’re trying to get at is information that’s being bought and sold privately, and certainly not any story that anybody in the media would put into some type of publication,” Duncan said.