American Opinion: Barring members of Congress from playing stocks could restore public trust
American Opinion: Service in Congress is supposed to be just that — service — not a chance for the rich to get richer with games that might land them in jail if they were anyone else. Pelosi and other leaders in both parties should get behind these reforms and make them happen.
Ballotpedia tracks what it calls a “personal gain index” showing how much each member of Congress’ personal wealth has changed while in office. For the top 20, the average increase in net worth has been 422% per year. Data like that helps explain why regular Americans hold Congress in such low esteem, as they watch their supposed public servants seemingly benefiting personally from their positions. Bipartisan legislation in Congress to prohibit its members from buying and selling stocks while in office could help rebuild that trust.
In January 2020, when most of America had no idea what the coronavirus would soon do to the economy, many members of Congress did, because they were getting privileged information from experts. Several of those members started dumping stock they owned — this during a soaring stock market that most people didn’t know was about to tank as the pandemic arrived.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million worth, including hotel holdings that would subsequently lose value because of the lockdowns. Then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Georgia, sold off even more doomed stocks — while picking up one for a tech company whose value would spike because of the coming necessity of teleconferencing for many more workers. The husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sold at least $1.5 million worth of stock before the market plunged. The wife of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., bought stock in February 2020 in a pharmaceutical company that developed an antiviral treatment for the coronavirus, well before most regular Americans knew it would be needed.
They and others all denied wrongdoing, and the Justice Department has dropped its investigations of those and other transactions (though the Securities and Exchange Commission is still looking at Burr’s case). But whether these were just happy coincidences for these lawmakers, or something more sinister, they looked awful and eroded public confidence in the honesty of Congress.
A recent investigation by Business Insider found scores of members of Congress have violated a requirement to disclose stock trades within 45 days of the transaction. Worse, when the website sought comment from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (whose husband is a major stock trader), she dismissed the idea of requiring lawmakers to put their holdings in blind trusts while serving — a response that angered reformers on both sides of the aisle and has reinvigorated efforts to pass such a requirement. Among the various pieces of legislation out there now are proposals from such disparate sources as Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.
Service in Congress is supposed to be just that — service — not a chance for the rich to get richer with games that might land them in jail if they were anyone else. Pelosi and other leaders in both parties should get behind these reforms and make them happen.