Hawley introduces bill banning lawmakers from making stock trades in office

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) questions Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Homeland Security Department on Tuesday, November 16, 2021.
Greg Nash

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) announced on Wednesday that he will introduce a bill banning congressional lawmakers and their spouses from maintaining stock holdings or making new transactions while in office.

Hawley’s announcement came the same day a pair of Democratic senators introduced a similar piece of legislation that would ban members of Congress and their families from making stock transactions while serving in office.

Hawley’s bill, dubbed the Banning Insider Trading in Congress Act, would ban members of Congress and their spouses from holding, buying or selling stocks or equivalent economic interests while serving in Washington. Investments in mutual funds, exchange-traded funds or U.S. Treasury bonds, however, would be permitted.

Hawley in a statement said, “It’s time to stop turning a blind eye to Washington profiteering.”

Incoming members of Congress would have six months to divest any forbidden holdings or move them into a blind trust for the rest of their time in office.

Members who violate the proposed law would be required to forfeit profits made on their investments to the Treasury. Violators would also lose the opportunity to subtract the losses from those investments on their income taxes and be subject to potential additional fines from congressional ethics committees.

If passed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) would conduct an audit of member compliance with the law every two years.

Like Hawley’s bill, the Democrats’ legislation — introduced by Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) — requires that members and their families, including spouses and dependent children, divest certain holdings or transfer them to a qualified blind trust. 

The Democrats, however, require that the holdings be moved within 120 days of a new member entering office, and their penalty for violation of the law would be a fine in the amount of their entire Congressional salary.

The push for more regulation of congressional stock trades comes after reports revealed that authorities were looking into whether Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) broke federal insider trading laws when he sold the majority of his stock holdings in February 2020 after receiving a classified briefing on the nascent COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of Congress are currently prohibited from using nonpublic information they receive as part of their job to earn a personal profit and are required to disclose financial transactions within 45 days of them being enforced.

Some lawmakers, however, may not be complying with that statute. Business Insider reported that 54 congressional lawmakers have not reported their financial trades in accordance with the STOCK Act.

Wednesday’s push to ban stock trades in Congress is not the first time this effort has been introduced. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill in March aimed at banning congressional lawmakers and their senior staff from buying and selling stocks, most bonds and options contracts while in office.

In January, a separate bipartisan group reintroduced the Transparent Representation Upholding Service and Trust in Congress Act in January, which would have required that sitting members of Congress, their spouses and dependent children transfer specific investments into a qualified blind trust.

The current push for stricter regulations comes after a Trafalgar Group survey commissioned by the conservative advocacy group Convention of States Action found that 76 percent of voters believe lawmakers and their spouses have an “unfair advantage” in the stock market. Only 5 percent of those polled approved of members of Congress trading stocks, and 19 percent said they do not have an opinion.

One lawmaker who has publicly objected to banning congressional stock trading is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said last month, “We’re a free market economy. They should be able to participate in that.” While Pelosi does not own any stocks, her husband, Paul Pelosi, has made stock transactions.

Updated at Thursday at 9:16 a.m. 

Tags Congress Jon Ossoff Josh Hawley Mark Kelly Nancy Pelosi Richard Burr stocks Trading

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