Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen have joined 19 of their colleagues in introducing legislation that would prohibit members of Congress, their spouses and dependent children from trading stocks.
“Ethics matter. Members of Congress are public servants who should not be making a profit off of the official information we gain by doing our jobs,” Cardin said in a statement.
The Ending Trading and Holdings in Congressional Stocks (ETHICS) Act was introduced last week by Democratic Sens. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
“Members of Congress have a responsibility to act in the best interest of the American people — not their personal financial portfolios,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “By removing any financial conflicts of interest and increasing transparency, Congress can better serve our constituents and uphold the public trust.”
Identical legislation was introduced in the House by Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, and Michael Cloud, R-Texas.
In January, a bipartisan group of House members reintroduced the Transparent Representation Upholding Service and Trust in Congress (TRUST) Act. The bill would ban members of Congress from trading stocks while in office, but still would permit them to put certain assets in a blind trust. Supporters of the bill ranged from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, to Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan watchdog organization, backs the ETHICS Act.
“It’s, frankly, a class divide,” Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, POGO government affairs manager, told Capital News Service. “If you’re a wealthier member of Congress, you’re often a little bit more opposed to these kinds of things because you have a lot more to lose from these restrictions.”
Hedtler-Gaudette said restricting lawmakers from trading stocks has broad public support, which could increase the likelihood of the bill’s passage.
A poll conducted by the Trafalgar Group found that 70 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Republicans and nearly 80 percent of independents say members of Congress should not be allowed to trade stocks.
“People need to have confidence that policymakers are making decisions about what’s best for the country, not what’s best for their stock portfolios,” Brown said in a press conference last Tuesday.
Although stock trading is not currently prohibited, members of Congress are required to publicly file and disclose any financial transaction within 45 days of its occurrence, according to a law passed by lawmakers and signed by President Barack Obama in 2012.
That law, called the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, currently requires members of Congress to pay $200 for every 30 days that they fail to comply with the rules. The ETHICS Act would change the fine to $500 per case when a member of Congress does not comply with the STOCK Act.