Proposals to ban members of Congress from trading stocks have divided Maine’s congressional delegation, mirroring a broader debate that has created odd alliances and pitted rank-and-file members against congressional leaders.
Maine’s two U.S. senators have balked so far, with Republican Susan Collins arguing current laws need to be enforced better and independent Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, saying he is reviewing current proposals. They are the only two members of the state’s delegation to benefit from buying or selling individual stocks. Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree, both Democrats, back proposals to rein in stock trading by members of Congress.
Congressional stock trading became a bigger issue in recent weeks following a report from Business Insider that found that more than 50 members of Congress violated a 2012 law aiming to prevent conflicts of interest and insider trading by failing to report buying or selling stocks on time. No members of Maine’s delegation were implicated.
It came on the heels of federal investigations in 2020 into the trading activities of U.S. senators shortly before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several sold shares of companies that dropped in value when the market contracted that March or bought shares of companies that made protective gear. Authorities did not pursue charges against any members, however.
The issue prompted a range of bipartisan efforts to limit congressional stock trading. Golden was among the early backers of a bill from Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, that would bar lawmakers and their top staffers from buying or selling individual stocks or serving on corporate boards. That bill also got support from lawmakers as disparate as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and Matt Gaetz, R-Florida.
Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-Virginia, and Chip Roy, R-Texas, put forward a different proposal that would require members to put investments in blind trusts. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, put forward a proposal this week, as did Sens. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, and Mark Kelly, D-Arizona.
But leaders have been reluctant to take up stock trading, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, saying earlier this month that members should be able to engage in a “free market economy.” She has called for strengthening enforcement of a 2012 law that bars members of Congress from using non-public information to inform their stock purchases or sales.
It is a unique example of an issue where Congress is debating a bill that would directly affect members’ finances. Neither Pingree nor Golden own stocks, according to their most recent financial disclosures, while Collins and King both disclose stocks owned by their spouses.
A spokesperson for Pingree said Tuesday that she supported the bill sponsored by Spanberger and Roy. But Maine’s senators have stopped short of backing any of the proposals so far.
King “believes that elected officials should take every possible step to uphold the immense faith the American public has placed in them” and was reviewing legislation on stock trades and “examining opportunities to strengthen that trust,” a spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for Collins noted her work on the 2012 law, saying “appropriate safeguards” to prevent members from trading stocks based on insider knowledge are “already in place and should be enforced.”
The number of competing proposals could pose a challenge for lawmakers aiming to restrict trading. But Golden drafted a letter to Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, this week encouraging the pair to bring a bill to the floor, saying the emergence of multiple bills on the issue was a “sign of broad rank-and-file support.”
“There is no reason that members of Congress need to be allowed to trade stocks when we should be focused on doing our jobs and serving our constituents,” he wrote. “Perhaps this means some of our colleagues will miss out on lucrative investment opportunities. We don’t care. We came to Congress to serve our country, not turn a quick buck.”