Health pick’s trades put STOCK Act in spotlight

Health pick’s trades put STOCK Act in spotlight
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President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE’s pick to lead his administration’s overhaul of the healthcare system is facing growing pressure over whether his portfolio and politics were too tightly mixed.

Senate Democrats are expected to grill Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) over whether his investment decisions were informed by his activities as a lawmaker who exerted significant influence over the nation’s health policy.

Price’s first hearing to be confirmed as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will take place Wednesday.

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The Price story has also thrust into the spotlight a 2012 law that forbids members of Congress from personally profiting from private information obtained through their congressional work.

The Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act was one of the few bipartisan achievements of President Obama’s tenure. Of the 435 members in the House, 417 voted to pass it, including Price.

No lawmaker has faced insider trading charges since the law was approved, but it has given ammunition to Democrats eager to question Price’s trading activity.

Lawmakers have focused on a series of trades Price made in medical companies, oftentimes in close proximity to political activity that may have boosted their profits.

Democrats have gone so far as to call for Price’s confirmation hearing to be delayed until ethics investigators have had a chance to review the activity.

Sens. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenHirono electrifies left as Trump antagonist Miss USA pageant winner celebrated for addressing 'Me Too' movement on stage NY man sentenced to prison for racist death threats to Obama, Waters MORE (D-Minn.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenButtigieg jokes about holding town hall same night as 'Game of Thrones' finale Buttigieg defends appearing on Fox News: Many Americans don't hear Dems' message Warren offers to help Twitter user with her love life MORE (D-Mass.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinThis week: House to vote on bill to ban LGBTQ discrimination Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to Trump border wall from Afghan forces, other accounts MORE (D-Wis.) said Tuesday that Price’s confirmation should not go forward until an ethics probe has determined no wrongdoing was committed.

“Allowing Congressman Price's nomination to move to a hearing with questions about his ethical qualifications left unanswered would send an early, clear, and deeply troubling signal that the Senate's critical oversight functions will be given a back seat to the demands of the Trump Administration,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter Wednesday to Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderIt's time for Republicans to lead (again) on climate WANTED: A Republican with courage Overnight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — House passes drug pricing bills amid ObamaCare row | Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law | Ocasio-Cortez confronts CEO over K drug price tag MORE (R-Tenn.), who chairs the committee vetting Price.

Even if the hearing is not delayed, Democrats are making clear that Price’s personal trading will be a central focus of their attacks when he appears.

For its part, the Trump transition team has backed Price and dismissed the questions as partisan attacks aimed at derailing a pick central to the ObamaCare fight.

“Any effort to connect the introduction of bipartisan legislation by Dr. Price to any campaign contribution is demonstrably false,” said Phil Blando, a transition spokesman. “The only pattern we see emerging is that Senate Democrats and their liberal media allies cannot abide the notion that Dr. Tom Price is uniquely qualified to lead HHS and will stop at nothing to smear his reputation.”

The STOCK Act does not actually place stricter insider trading rules against members of Congress and their staff. Rather, the 2012 law beefs up disclosure requirements for financial trades and makes explicit that lawmakers and top executive branch officials are subject to those laws, just as other investors would be.

The Trump transition has defended Price’s trades, arguing they were not directed by Price but rather done by his broker as part of a normal portfolio realignment.

For example, CNN reported Monday that Price purchased between $1,000 and $15,000 in stock in a medical device company, Zimmer Biomet, and then days later introduced legislation that would delay a federal rule to the benefit of just such a company.

Zimmer Biomet also went on to contribute $2,000 to Price’s congressional campaign. There have also been additional reports that have connected some trading by Price in medical stock to political activity in similar sectors.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars Getting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act MORE (D-N.Y.) has seized on the reports, telling CNN Tuesday it “could very well be a violation of the law.”

“This is not some broad legislation. ... This is a very narrow, specific company that dealt with implants,” he told CNN Tuesday. “And the legislation specifically affects implants. He puts it in a week after he buys the stock?”

The Trump transition says that stock was purchased by Price’s broker as part of dozens of transactions, and was done without his knowledge. Trump officials also noted that the $2,697.74 in company stock that Price purchased in March had gained less than $300 in value since then.

Transition officials have also noted that some Democrats, including Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon Key Republican 'convinced' Iran threats are credible Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group MORE (D-Va.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseOvernight Energy: EPA watchdog finds Pruitt spent 4K on 'excessive' travel | Agency defends Pruitt expenses | Lawmakers push EPA to recover money | Inslee proposes spending T for green jobs Lawmakers take EPA head to task for refusing to demand Pruitt repay travel expenses Dems request investigation of lobbyist-turned-EPA employee who met with former boss MORE (D-R.I.) have also traded in medical stocks. Both those senators have defended the trading activity, calling them the work of their own independent advisers.

Some ethics experts argue that while the circumstances alone do not prove any wrongdoing, they could merit a closer look.

“It seems curious that he’d be introducing legislation that is seen as benefiting a few companies, and his broker just happens to buy stock,” said Lawrence Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that encourages strict enforcement of campaign finance laws. “Effectively what they’re saying is that it’s just a coincidence. He seems to have had these coincidences before.”