Congress: Trading stock on inside information?

Steve Kroft reports that members of Congress can legally trade stock based on non-public information from Capitol Hill

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Kroft: Look we're not alleging that Congressman Bachus has violated any laws. All...the only thing we're interested in talking to him is about his trades.

Tim Johnson: Ok...Ok that's a fair enough request.

What we got was a statement from Congressman Bachus' office that he never trades on non-public information, or financial services stock. However, his financial disclosure forms seem to indicate otherwise. Bachus made money trading General Electric stock during the crisis, and a third of GE's business is in financial services.

During the healthcare debate of 2009, members of Congress were trading health care stocks, including House Minority Leader John Boehner, who led the opposition against the so-called public option, government funded insurance that would compete with private companies. Just days before the provision was finally killed off, Boehner bought health insurance stocks, all of which went up. Now speaker of the House, Congressman Boehner also declined to be interviewed, so we tracked him down at his weekly press conference.

Kroft: You made a number of trades going back to the health care debate. You bought some insurance stock. Did you make those trades based on non-public information?

John Boehner: I have not made any decisions on day-to-day trading activities in my account. And haven't for years. I don't-- I do not do it, haven't done it and wouldn't do it.

Later Boehner's spokesman told us that the health care trades were made by the speaker's financial adviser, who he only consults with about once a year.

[Peter Schweizer: We need to find out whether they're part of a blind trust or not.]

Peter Schweizer thinks the timing is suspicious, and believes congressional leaders should have their stock funds in blind trusts.

Schweizer: Whether it's uh-- $15,000 or $150,000, the principle in my mind is that it's simply wrong and it shouldn't take place.

But there is a long history of self-dealing in Washington. And it doesn't always involve stock trades.

Congressmen and senators also seem to have a special knack for land and real estate deals. When Illinois Congressman Dennis Hastert became speaker of the House in 1999, he was worth a few hundred thousand dollars. He left the job eight years later a multi-millionaire.

Jan Strasma: The road that Hastert wants to build will go through these farm fields right here.

In 2005, Speaker Hastert got a $207 million federal earmark to build the Prairie Parkway through these cornfields near his home. What Jan Strasma and his neighbors didn't know was that Hastert had also bought some land adjacent to where the highway is supposed to go.

Strasma: And five months after this earmark went through he sold that land and made a bundle of money.

Kroft: How much?

Strasma: Two million dollars.

Kroft: What do you think of it?

Strasma: It stinks.

We stopped by the former speaker's farm, to ask him about the land deal, but he was off in Washington where he now works as a lobbyist. His office told us that property values in the area began to appreciate even before the earmark and that the Hastert land was several miles from the nearest exit.

But the same good fortune befell former New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, who helped steer nearly $70 million dollars in government funds towards redeveloping this defunct Air Force base, which he and his brother both had a commercial interest in. Gregg has said that he violated no congressional rules.

It's but one more example of good things happening to powerful members of Congress. Another is the access to initial public stock offerings, the opportunity to buy a new stock at insider prices just as it goes on the market. They can be incredibly lucrative and hard to get.