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Are Members Of Congress Self-Serving Crooks? Still No Ban On Stock Trading

Faces of institutional corruption in the House

You can be sure that Members of Congress will take some time out from campaign calls today to read the explosive New York Times report on congressional stock trading, something the public has been demanding end for a year now. Congressional leadership has dragged their feet and prevented any substantive progress. This morning PunchBowl reported that the Democrats on the House Administration Committee had “initially planned to release a draft of the legislation in August, but the package isn’t wrapped up yet. For example, Democratic leaders still haven’t decided whether to force Supreme Court justices to file more detailed financial disclosure reports. Congress recently passed the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act that will put the justices’ disclosure reports online, but many lawmakers are pressing for more, including a code of ethics for the high court. Also still undecided– whether to extend the stock trading ban to senior congressional aides. But Democrats involved in crafting the bill insist the House will hold a vote later this month, despite being behind schedule on wrapping up legislative text.”

Of the 6 Democrats and 3 Republicans on the committee dealing with the legislation, according to The Times’ compendium of members who trade stocks putting them in conflict of interest, just one is on the list, chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (an all-around sleazy character from way back):

Obviously she should have recused herself from the task but her entire career is built on conflicts of interest. Since she was asked by Pelosi— who is determined to sabotage any effective ban of stock trades— to take on the task, there is little doubt that Lofgren— who will be 75 in 3 months— knows what is expected of her. We’ll see if second-ranking Democrat and the top reformer on the committee, Jamie Raskin, has the strength to keep Lofgren and Pelosi from doing their worst. I’m sure the first sentences of The Times report gave her a sick feeling in her stomach: “Despite their influence and extensive access to information, members of Congress can buy and sell stocks with few restrictions. From 2019 to 2021, 183 current senators or representatives reported a trade of a stock or another financial asset by themselves or an immediate family member. More than half of them sat on congressional committees that potentially gave them insight into the companies whose shares they reported buying or selling, an analysis by the New York Times has found.”

Kate Kelly, Adam Playford and Alicia Parlapiano reported that “Senator Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama and a member of the agriculture committee, regularly reported buying and selling contracts tied to cattle prices starting last year, even as the panel, by Tuberville’s own account, had ‘been talking about the cattle markets.’ Representative Bob Gibbs, an Ohio Republican on the House Oversight Committee, reported buying shares of the pharmaceutical company AbbVie in 2020 and 2021, while the committee was investigating AbbVie and five rivals over high drug prices. The timing of one trade by the wife of Representative Alan Lowenthal of California, was especially striking: His disclosure statement said she had sold Boeing shares on March 5, 2020— one day before a House committee on which he sits released damaging findings on the company’s handling of its 737 Max jet, which was involved in two fatal crashes. These lawmakers— all of whom defended the transactions as proper— are among 97 current senators or representatives who reported trades by themselves or immediate family members in stocks or other financial assets that intersected with the work of committees on which they serve, according to an extensive analysis of trades from the years 2019 to 2021 by the New York Times.”

Remember, all of the perps “defended the transactions as proper.” Isn’t that what white collar criminals always do? “The potential for conflicts in stock trading by members of Congress— and their choice so far not to impose stricter limits on themselves— has long drawn criticism, especially when particularly blatant cases emerge” wrote Kelly, Playford and Parlapiano. “But The Times analysis demonstrates the scale of the issue: Over the three-year period, more than 3,700 trades reported by lawmakers from both parties posed potential conflicts between their public responsibilities and private finances.”

Is this a both sides are crooks kind of thing? You bet. The perps that The Times caught included 47 Democrats and 49 Republicans— shady characters like conservative Iowa Democrat Cindy Axne:

and MAGA extremist and Trump apologist Diana Harshbarger (R-TN):

as well as wealthy Las Vegas socialite Susie Lee (D-NV):

and career criminal Pete Sessions (R-TX):

I almost forgot the shameless cash-hungry cryptocurrency Trojan Horse in the Senate, Pat Toomey:

The trio of reporters wrote that many of the trades demonstrate “how legislative work and investment decisions can overlap in ways that at a minimum can leave the appearance of a conflict and that sometimes form a troubling pattern— even if they technically fall within the rules… Whether legislators’ privileged position actually yields financial benefits to those who play the markets is not clear. Although some observers have pointed to specific examples of members who appeared to have made a profit, STOCK Act disclosures often provide insufficient information to make that calculation: They show only wide ranges of values, do not have to specify whether a transaction yielded a profit or a loss and sometimes do not show both a purchase and a sale… In a rare insider-trading prosecution of a member of Congress, Representative Chris Collins, Republican of New York, resigned in 2019 after pleading guilty to charges related to giving his son insider information about a failed drug trial at an Australian biotech company on whose board the lawmaker served. He served time in prison before being pardoned by Trump.”

Three members of the House Committee on Financial Services bought or sold Wells Fargo shares during a year in which the committee was investigating the bank’s consumer practices and risk management.
One of them, Representative John Rose, Republican of Tennessee, sold between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of the stock late in 2019, a few months before the committee issued a sharply critical report on the company that coincided with a steep decline in the bank’s share price amid pandemic fears. A spokesman for Mr. Rose did not respond to requests for comment.

A quarter of the members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources reported purchases or sales of securities in energy companies like Exxon and Chevron.
More than a third of the members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works reported either buying or selling stocks like the oil-field services company Schlumberger, the chemical company DuPont or the manufacturer Illinois Tool Works.
In the House, eight members of the Armed Services Committee reported transactions in defense or aerospace stocks.
…In recent years, some lawmakers or their families have bought or sold stocks that were likely to be affected by events they had been briefed on confidentially.
Representative Mike Kelly, Republican of Pennsylvania, fell under scrutiny by the Office of Congressional Ethics over a stock trade.
In 2020, Kelly’s wife, Victoria Kelly, bought $15,000 to $50,000 of stock in the mining company Cleveland-Cliffs — just one day after Mr. Kelly’s office learned that the Commerce Department would initiate a tariff investigation that might benefit the company, which at the time employed about 1,400 workers at a steel plant in Butler, within his congressional district. Mr. Kelly had lobbied Trump administration officials for additional tariff protections, according to an ethics office report.
Ms. Kelly’s purchase— made before the news was public— was the only trade she made in an individual stock that year; records suggest she took a nearly 300 percent profit when she sold eight months later.
The ethics office’s investigation was disclosed last year. While Ms. Kelly’s Cleveland-Cliffs purchase was not flagged by The Times analysis because it did not overlap in an obvious way with her husband’s committee assignments, 23 other transactions made by her in 2019 were purchases and sales of a variety of pharmaceutical, insurance and medical equipment stocks while Kelly was a member of the health care subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways and Means.
Mr. and Mrs. Kelly did not respond to requests for comment, and it is unclear whether the House Committee on Ethics— to which the Office of Congressional Ethics, a separate and independent body, referred the matter last July— is still investigating.

Perhaps it's worth noting that Kelly also figured prominently in Trump's attempted coup, working with Ron Johnson and Newt Gingrich on the fake electors scheme (although blaming his staff, none of whom have been fired, while he requested a preemptive pardon for himself from Trump).

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