The House’s draft legislation, the Combatting Financial Conflicts of Interest in Government Act, which would ban members of Congress, their spouses, and their dependent children from owning and trading stocks is a big first step towards finally ending conflicts of interest in the legislature. Over the course of five months, a large group of members of Congress have labored in relative silence to develop this strong and necessary legislation. While the bill contains a few elements that need to be removed or revised before it becomes law—including provisions that would allow the supervising ethics offices to approve new types of exempt trusts and that would apply the ban to the other branches of government, the nuts and bolts of how the bill would achieve its ends are very strong. Now that it’s been released, it’s time for Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer to step up and lead—and commit to bring the bill to the House floor as soon as possible, and to move similar legislation in the Senate.
As CREW has said repeatedly, in our testimony and in public statements, Congress is mired in a crisis of public confidence which threatens to undermine the entire government. At the beginning of the pandemic, the public watched aghast as members of both parties made trades in the millions of dollars that appeared to be based on confidential information about the likelihood of financial devastation and the ways life would be reordered in a pandemic. Since then, a series of investigations has revealed that more than 75 members of Congress owned stock in COVID vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna while being asked repeatedly to vote on legislation that had a direct impact on these companies’ share prices, including legislation that gave these companies funding through the government’s Operation Warp Speed initiative.
These troublesome conflicts aren’t limited to pandemic-related trades. At least 15 members of Congress who sit on House and Senate committees that oversee U.S. military policy have financial ties to defense contractors. The longer Congress waits to pass a stock ownership and trading ban, the more damage these stories will inflict on the public’s trust in Congress. And the stories don’t stop coming: just this month, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) revealed that he purchased $265,000 of shares of Intel, just days before President Biden signed the CHIPS Act, a bipartisan bill that included more than $52 billion in subsidies for chip manufacturers like Intel.
As a result, CREW has called on Congress to develop and pass stock trading ban legislation that includes three key elements: (1) that it applies to members of Congress and their spouses and dependent children; (2) that it prohibits members and their families from owning or trading an individual stock or similar financial instrument; and (3) that it includes an enforcement mechanism that will function as a true deterrent.
This legislation includes all three of these key priorities, laying the groundwork for a comprehensive and strong framework to govern Congress. However, as we explained above, changes are still required. Indeed, it is crucial that Congress remove section H of the legislation, which would create a loophole that would weaken the blind trust rules that CREW worked so hard to get included in this legislation.
The bill represents the culmination of a long and often-times acrimonious process, including months of diligent work and negotiation. CREW helped lead a coalition of civil society organizations that worked closely with members of Congress throughout the entirety of this process. We offered technical legislative advice and provided thoughts on intricate policy details, including in lengthy testimony and submissions for the record to the committee of jurisdiction—all to ensure that members wrote a comprehensive bill, without loopholes or other serious policy deficiencies.
With the public overwhelmingly demanding this simple policy to improve their government, restore trust, and fight corruption, members worked to design a bill that would make it happen. We applaud all those involved for this accomplishment.
This legislation has the makings of good policy. It’s overwhelmingly popular. And it’s the right thing to do.
Although there are still changes that are needed, we call on Speaker Pelosi to bring it to the floor for a vote, and we call on Leader Schumer to commit to bringing up a strong and comprehensive ban as expeditiously as possible. This is common sense and the public, across partisan lines, is overwhelmingly demanding that Congress finally act. There’s simply no time to waste.