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Time for a Crackdown: US Lawmakers and Staff Cashing in on COVID Conflicts-of-Interest and More


A new report finds the personal finances of U.S. lawmakers often clash with their public duties and potentially break the law. That's why efforts to keep lawmakers from trading stocks are gaining momentum.
Excuses by lawmakers for seemingly skirting the law range from an innocent oversight to clerical errors. Still, the revelation from this report is causing a show of unity not recently seen on Capitol Hill.  

Republicans and Democrats may not agree on much these days. But Washington observers agree, both are guilty of ignoring a decade-old law aimed at conflicts-of-interest.  

"When you have so many members of Congress, and more importantly their staffs, that are actively buying and selling stocks that involve the industries and the specific businesses that they help oversee and regulate, it's incredibly concerning," said Eric Eggers from the Government Accountability Institute. 
The 2012 Stock Act requires members to quickly disclose any stock trade made by themselves, a spouse, or a dependent child. Republican Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) don't believe the process is working and both are pushing bills to end stock-trading by members of Congress.

"We know that lawmakers are not living up to the standard that they set for themselves, that they're violating the Stock Act disclosure provision," said Dave Levinthal at Business Insider.
This isn't the first attempt at banning members from trading individual stocks. A year ago, House legislation would have required lawmakers, as well as their spouses and children, to put investment assets into a qualified blind trust. Another bill prevented trades for lawmakers and senior staffers, but not family members. 
"Sometimes even the far right and the far left coming together and basically saying, 'Wait, why is this legal?'" said Levinthal. 
This latest debate follows a recent Business Insider investigation and other media reports of 50-plus members of Congress and some 180 staffers violating the Federal Stock Act. The offenses range from being late in disclosing trades to personally investing in industries they oversee. It also follows the resignation of Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Richard Clarida over questionable trading activity at the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020.  

Clarida apparently wasn't alone. The study reports numerous lawmakers holding, buying, or selling stock connected to COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers. Republican Sen. Rand Paul was reportedly 16 months late in disclosing that his wife bought stock in a biopharmaceutical company that manufactures an antiviral COVID-19 treatment.  

"It makes it incredibly challenging when you have to evaluate decisions about vaccine mandates, or how many shots do you have to have from a booster perspective before you're considered fully vaccinated. Are we talking about things that are truly being driven by the science, or we're talking about things that are driven by these companies that members of Congress are invested in?" asked Eggers. 

Other members are accused of actively shaping policy while investing in corporations that could benefit from their work. They range from military defense contractors to energy companies to media outlets. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose husband's holdings include numerous tech companies, is a vocal critic of a stock trade ban. 

"This is a free market. We are a free market economy that should be able to participate in that," said Pelosi at a recent press conference. 

Violators of the Stock Act face a fine of about $200, usually waived by House or Senate Ethics officials. Now, watchdogs and even some members of Congress are using this report to call for stricter penalties.

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