Lawmakers want to stop politicians from investing in stocks

Should members of Congress and their families abstain from stock trading?

 New York Stock Exchange
Lawmakers are debating the ethics of stock trading on the hill
(Image credit: Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images)

U.S. senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D- NY) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) announced plans to introduce a bipartisan ban on members of the federal executive branch and Congress from owning stock in individual companies and blind trusts. The proposed congressional stock trading ban is the latest in a succession of similar measures introduced by lawmakers from both parties.

Efforts to prohibit congressional stock trading have been ramping up over the last year after investigations by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal revealed the number of lawmakers trading stocks related to the regulatory committees they sat on. About a dozen similar bills have been introduced this year to amend existing government rules for stock trading in Washington under a 2012 law called the STOCK Act. So while a vote on a stock trading ban has failed to make it to the floor, the debate over the ethical implications rages on.

Lawmakers shouldn't be trying to "line their own pockets"

Gillibrand and Hawley proposed the latest bill to ensure that lawmakers are transparent with their constituents and not abusing their positions. It's "critical" for Americans to "know that their elected leaders are putting the public first," said Gillibrand in a statement to The Wall Street Journal, "not looking for ways to line their own pockets." After introducing a similar bill in January, Hawley asserted that members of Congress and their families "shouldn't be using their position to get rich on the stock market."

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Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), who partnered with Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) on another congressional stock trading ban proposal, said the mounting evidence of unethical trading proves a solution is needed. The public continues to "see story after story hit the headlines of members of Congress who bought and sold stock related to" the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, the invasion of Ukraine, and Covid," Spanberger said at a press conference, per Roll Call. "Frankly speaking, whether there was any ill intention or not, the American people think it's outrageous."

Unethical trading could affect how they vote on legislation

The "deep conflicts" created by congressional stock trading are "significant enough" to produce both "corruption" and the "impression among the public of corruption," Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told CNN's "Before the Bell." "For both reasons, that stock trading needs to end." Merkley proposed the Ending Trading and Holdings in Congressional Stocks (ETHICS) Act, prohibiting lawmakers and their families from buying or selling individual stocks. Merkely expressed concern over how the conflicts of interest "might change how they would vote on legislation." Merkely also pointed out the possibility of lawmakers having confidential information that gives them an "unfair advantage."

A ban could make fewer people want to serve as lawmakers

Not everyone is on board with prohibiting congressional stock trading. "This is a free country, last time I heard," Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Al) said in a response to a proposed ban in 2022. He believed curtailing lawmakers' ability to participate in stock trading would lead to fewer people running for office. "I think it's ridiculous. They might as well start sending robots up here," he told The Independent. "I think it would really cut back on the amount of people that would want to come up here and serve."

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Theara Coleman

Theara Coleman is a Staff Writer for The Week. A New York native, she previously served as a contributing writer and assistant editor for Honeysuckle Magazine, where she covered racial politics and cannabis industry news. Theara graduated from Howard University and New York University, receiving her BA and MA in English Literature, respectively. She has a background in education as a former High School English teacher. She brings her passion for reading, writing, and all things nerdy to her work as a journalist.