Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to scrutiny of members of Congress trading stocks by defending the practice. “We are a free-market economy. [Members of Congress] should be able to participate in that,” said the Speaker, who is reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars, making her one of the wealthiest members of Congress. The scrutiny comes after several members of Congress were reportedly investigated for insider trading early in the pandemic; dozens of Congress members may have violated the STOCK Act, a bill meant to bar lawmakers from profiting off of private information they obtain within their duties as public officials. 

In response to this mounting controversy, some lawmakers have called for a Congress-wide trading ban. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy recently expressed interest in “instituting new limits or an outright ban on lawmakers holding and trading stocks and equities if Republicans take the majority in November,” according to Punchbowl News. While McCarthy’s plan is still in its infancy, he’s considering forcing lawmakers “to hold only professionally managed mutual funds” or banning lawmakers “from holding stocks in companies or industries their committees oversee,” the news outlet reported. 

On the other side of the aisle, Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia is reportedly set to introduce legislation that would bar members of Congress from stock trading. Ossoff’s plan, which was first reported by the New York Post and deemed as a “snub” to Pelosi, would not only ban members from the market but also their families––a key detail, given that, at times, it is the spouses of lawmakers who are involved in the stock market. Like McCarthy, the freshman Democrat, who is reportedly seeking a Republican cosponsor for the bill, has said that lawmakers should place their financial assets in blind trusts. (Following Ossoff’s election last year, he personally placed his financial assets in a blind trust.) 

Over the past year, a number of other members have voiced support for such legislation after former Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were investigated for alleged insider trading early in the COVID-19 pandemic. (In January 2020, Loeffler, whose husband chairs the New York Stock Exchange, executed a stock dump worth millions, following a closed-door Senate Health Committee meeting regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, the Daily Beast revealed in March 2020. Perdue made more than 100 market transactions and invested in a personal protective equipment company in the weeks leading up to the COVID-19 shutdowns in the U.S, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time. Both senators were ultimately cleared of wrongdoing by the Senate Ethics Committee.) As recently as last year, lawmakers have tried to pass legislation to ban members of Congress from trading individual stocks but were unsuccessful. In March of 2021, a bipartisan group of lawmakers including senators Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown, and Raphael Warnock introduced the Ban Conflicted Trading Act, a bill that would bar members from trading. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Matt Gaetz, Joe Neguse, and Michael Cloud also backed the the bill.

Despite the lack of legislative progress on the issue, Ocasio-Cortez has continued to call out the “ludicrous” idea that congressional members should be allowed to trade. “The access and influence we have should be exercised for the public interest, not our profit,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez last month. Likewise, Senator Elizabeth Warren called for “tougher laws” to regulate the financial moves of lawmakers while speaking with Insider in December. “The American people should never have to guess whether or not an elected official is advancing an issue or voting on a bill based on what’s good for the country or what’s good for their own personal financial interests,” said Warren in remarks she made one day before Pelosi insisted that members “should be able to participate” in the free market. The “brazenness of people who think it’s okay to be in a position of trust to represent the people of this country, and at the same time to be working to advance your own financial interests…it’s just wrong.”

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