Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona joined with fellow Democratic Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia last week to lay down a marker on when their colleagues on Capitol Hill should be able to trade stocks. Never, they say.
The two Senators proposed the most aggressive option so far to ban stock trading not just by lawmakers but also by members of their immediate family: the Ban Congressional Stock Trading Act, which would confiscate a lawmaker’s entire salary if they break the rules.
In an interview with Yahoo Finance this week, the Arizona senator said the issue of stock trading, to his mind, is one part of being “more transparent with the American people.”
"We see a lot of information that the general public does not have access to,” Kelly says. “And it's not right for individuals to be elected to Congress and then be able to trade on that information.”
Kelly — a retired NASA astronaut and husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords — says his own stocks are already in a blind trust. "Not only can I not make trades, I don't even know what's in there,” he said.
The bill introduced by Ossoff and Kelly is one of a range of proposed pieces of legislation that advocates hope can end a parade of headlines revealing just how porous the current system is when it comes to curbing insider stock trading by federal lawmakers. Those bills include one from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) that would bar lawmakers and their spouses from holding or trading individual stocks. Another proposal would bar lawmakers and senior staff from trading, while yet another would strengthen transparency requirements but still allow trading.
U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger — who's pushing a bill similar to the Ossoff-Kelly plan in the House of Representatives — recently told Yahoo Finance the system is so bad that people more or less expect their lawmakers to be corrupt. Recently, Insider published an investigation finding 54 members of Congress violated a law requiring lawmakers to disclose stock trades within 45 days.
When it comes to the issue of Congresspeople profiting from stock trades, Spanberger commented: "What was disturbing to me was that with the American public, or at least my constituents, the reaction was, ‘Yeah, of course, we expected this.’”
Even Kelly, who's advocating to ban trading, shows how unclear and haphazard the system can be — he's one of the 54 lawmakers whose name appears in the Insider investigation.
He sold stock in a technology firm and didn’t report it within the required 45-day window, but his office told Fox News the transaction was part of setting up his qualified blind trust and that he filed the disclosure late on purpose, under the advice of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
Kelly, who's up for re-election this year, has a campaign largely centered around transparency. Congress needs to figure out better rules, Kelly says, to insure the public doesn't think their representatives are acting on “what is in the best interests of members of Congress personally."
I’m proud to be the only member of Congress who has taken all three of these steps towards greater government accountability:
1️⃣ I publish my Senate schedule online
2️⃣ I don’t take a dime of corporate PAC money
3️⃣ I moved my assets into Qualified Blind Trusts
— Captain Mark Kelly (@CaptMarkKelly) January 13, 2022
“That's where the problems arise,” he said.
One possible roadblock to the effort to curb Congressional trading specifically could be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has spoken out against banning lawmakers from making individual stock trades. Multiple news outlets have reported that her husband is a regular trader.
"We are a free-market economy,” she said during a press conference in December, adding that lawmakers “should be able to participate in that."
Still, Pelosi's deputy chief of staff recently told Yahoo Finance that Pelosi wants to “examine the issue of Members’ unacceptable noncompliance with the reporting requirements” with the possibility of stiffer penalties.
Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.