Guest Editorials

A plan to prevent congressional insider trading

On Jan. 24, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., attended a private Senate briefing on the coronavirus, which featured Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert.

By mid-February, Burr had dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars of stock in various companies, including some hotel chains that would soon lose much of their value due to a growing pandemic. He also told a private lunch gathering on Feb. 27, in a speech obtained by NPR, that coronavirus was “much more aggressive in its transmission that anything we have seen in recent history. It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.” Publicly that same month, he was assuring Americans that the U.S. was well-prepared for any outbreak.

The coincidences — his awareness of the contagion, his assurances and his stock sales — raised suspicions the senator had made use of inside knowledge for his own financial advantage while publicly downplaying the outbreak’s risks.

Another senator who attended the January briefing with Fauci, Republican Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, soon sold more than $1 million worth of shares. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., also sold large amounts not long after.

We don’t begrudge members of Congress the opportunity to buy and sell stocks to accumulate funds to pay for their children’s education, provide for retirement or anything else. It’s a legitimate activity that more than half of Americans engage in. To forbid it outright would make it harder for people who are not already wealthy to serve in elective office.

Nor we do leap to the conclusion that these senators violated any law or ethical obligation. But we don’t presume that politicians who have access to information that is not widely known would never stoop to profiting from it.

The STOCK Act already bars members of Congress and their aides from making “investment decisions based on insider information they might come across because of their congressional role.” Alas, “cases are rare because proving that a politician relied on such nonpublic information is difficult,” according to ProPublica.

So U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., has introduced a bill to impose stricter rules. His legislation would bar members from trading individual stocks or serving on corporate boards. The change would leave members other ways to build wealth through equities. Those newly elected to Congress would be free to retain the stocks they already own, as long as they don’t sell them. They also could put assets in a blind trust, which turns decisions over to independent trustees.

Under Krishnamoorthi’s legislation, members would also be allowed to invest in stocks through diversified mutual funds, which don’t pose the same risks. Current members would have six months to sell their holdings if they don’t want to meet these conditions, and new members would get the same grace period. That doesn’t sound too onerous, now, does it?

This editorial first appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Thursday. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.