Quick, name some national politicians you trust. What’s that you say? You’re struggling to think of any trustworthy politicians in Washington? You are not alone.
Pew Research reports 80% of us say we do not trust the federal government to do what’s right “always or most of the time.” And 81% of us think members of Congress act unethically “all or some of the time.”
I came to realize one way Congress could polish up their tarnished reputations after reading an editorial in The New Republic. Simply put, members of the U.S. Congress should stop playing the stock market. That’s right; either get out of the market altogether or set up tamper-proof blind trusts.
Through their committee assignments, members of Congress are exposed to mountains of insider knowledge, classified documents and secret information gleaned while questioning expert witnesses, sometimes behind closed doors.
Even though there is a law to guard against members illegal insider trading -- it’s called the STOCK Act, short for Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 -- dubious, perhaps criminal, investing still occurs.
How can that be? Because members can simply claim they made questionable stock trades on “publicly available information” and not on information they got during classified briefings. It is mighty tough to prove the lawmaker is lying.
The STOCK Act requires members to post all their family’s stock market transactions, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D.-Calif., recently failed to properly disclose a $50,000 stock purchase made by her husband. This wasn’t the first time Feinstein was in the hot seat about fortuitous family stock transactions, one of which reportedly involved as much as $6 million worth of biotechnology stock dumped right before the pandemic-driven market crash. The FBI investigated the senator, but no charges were filed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., followed the law and recently disclosed that her investor husband bought up to $1 million in Tesla stock just weeks before President Joe Biden announced he intends to replace the entire government fleet with electric cars. The eyebrow-raising transaction gives Pelosi an obvious financial interest in Tesla at a time when she will play a lead role in passing green initiatives that will surely help the electric car maker. Pelosi’s husband also bought options on Apple stock worth up to $500,000 at a time when Congress was talking about tough restrictions on Big Tech. But Pelosi reported all this, so everything is hunky-dory.
To be clear, this is not just a Democrat problem. Besides Feinstein, the FBI also investigated suspicions of insider trading against three Republican senators: Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Richard Burr of North Carolina. The Loeffler and Inhofe investigations were quickly dropped. Not so with Burr, then-chairman of the powerful Intelligence Committee.
At a time last February when Burr was getting classified COVID-19 briefings that warned of economic catastrophe, he sold stocks worth as much as $1.7 million. The FBI investigated but ultimately could not disprove Burr’s contention that he traded only on information he gathered from public sources.
It is widely believed that Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., lost his recent reelection bid due, in part, to charges of insider trading. The FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated a series of suspicious and highly lucrative stock trades in Perdue’s accounts. The senator insisted brokers made the transactions without his knowledge. The investigations were ultimately dropped.
See a trend here?
When members of Congress make laws that govern the behavior of members of Congress, you can bet those laws will have built-in loopholes. Adherence to the true spirit of the STOCK Act would be a great first step for members who want to earn back public trust.
They could also concentrate on helping Americans who want COVID-19 vaccinations and those suffering from the pandemic’s profound economic fallout. They could make sure all schools and universities open, come to a bipartisan immigration policy and create an equitable energy strategy that doesn’t cost thousands of Americans their jobs. Oh, and they could stop the blistering partisan attacks and work on that unity thing.
The list of what politicians could do goes on and on. The question is: Will they stop fighting long enough to repair their reputations and help Americans during this trying time?