Nancy Pelosi makes an incredulous face

Democrats Said They Wanted To Ban Congress From Trading Stocks. So What Happened?

After months of discussions, it looked like the House was actually going to vote on a bill proposing to ban lawmakers and their spouses from owning or trading stocks. Public scrutiny of congressional stock trading was severely heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic, when lawmakers and their families just happened to dump stocks right before the market took a nosedive, or else they bought stock in certain pharmaceutical companies (this was pre-vaccine), even as some of those same lawmakers were actively downplaying the severity of the virus.

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But this is not an issue limited to just the pandemic and it’s definitely not limited to just a few anti-vax-except-for-profit Republicans. Reporters from various outlets found 72 members of Congress who just recently violated the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act, which was passed in 2012 and aimed to ensure transparency in Congressional trading and to prevent conflicts of interest and insider trading.

The new bill Congress has been considering—the TRUST Act in Congress—has wide bipartisan (and public) support. Democrats seemed poised to make stock trading reform a key selling point to voters ahead of the midterm elections. So why did they let it fall apart?

It definitely didn’t help that lawmakers only got the final text of the bill three days before they were set to leave for recess. But it sounds like despite the overwhelming support and the fact that some lawmakers in tight midterm races have already produced campaign ads centered on the stock trading issue, there is enough opposition to keep the bill from progressing.

The Daily Beast wrote about the erosion of public trust as more and more stories of possible (and outright) corruption come to light:

Those stories have further undermined public trust in an institution that had little to begin with. Many on Capitol Hill, eager to find ways to restore even some of that trust, worry that failure to pass something addressing the issue could have far-reaching consequences.

“The grassroots on both sides are clamoring for this particular bill,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), a member of the working group that produced the legislation.

“There are certain people and certain interests that don’t want to see this happen, and it’s unfortunately more a function of this having been the practice for hundreds of years at this point,” Krishnamoorthi added. “So now, I think everyone sees the writing on the wall. It has to happen.”

Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger from Virginia, who sponsored the TRUST Act, issued a scathing statement calling for new party leadership. She accused leadership of engaging in “delay tactics” and of rewriting the bill to be so overstuffed and confusing that it had no chance to pass.

“Rather than bring Members of Congress together who are passionate about this issue, House leadership chose to ignore these voices, push them aside, and look for new ways they could string the media and the public along — and evade public criticism,” Spanberger wrote.

“As part of their diversionary tactics, the House Administration Committee was tasked with creating a new bill — and ultimately introduced a kitchen-sink package that they knew would fail, with only days until the end of the legislative session and no time to fix it.”

Advocates for the bill told The Daily Beast that this is not the end of the fight. “The optimistic outlook, as some of them tell it, is that Congress could return for the so-called ‘lame-duck’ session between mid-November and January, focus on resolving differing views over what a stock trading ban should look like—and dare members to vote against a compromise bill.”

Of course, that does nothing to help—and seems like it has to actively hurt—those Democrats who wanted to capitalize on this victory in their midterm races. Instead, they’ve handed ammunition to their opponents, with one more example of what we’ve all come to see as too-typical Democratic fecklessness.

(image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.