Republican and Democratic lawmakers have bought and sold stocks hundreds of times throughout the coronavirus pandemic — some of them lucrative moves to invest in industries buoyed by the crisis and divest from sectors like restaurants and hotels that have tanked, according to a new analysis by the Campaign Legal Center.
From Feb. 2 to April 8 of this year, the nonpartisan watchdog group found, 12 senators made a combined 127 purchases or sales, while 37 House representatives made at least 1,358 transactions.
As lawmakers received closed-door briefings on the pandemic from top health and national security officials, some bought stock in remote-work technology, telemedicine companies, pharmaceutical makers currently developing potential vaccines, car manufacturers that have shifted to making ventilators for coronavirus patients, and alcohol producers that started making hand sanitizer during the coronavirus outbreak.
In most cases, the lawmakers have not been accused of wrongdoing, but CLC says the frequency of such stock trades underscores the need for more transparency and ethics protections, particularly in a time of crisis.
Members of Congress are not held to the same ethics and disclosure requirements as members of the executive branch, but they must obey the 2012 STOCK Act, which prohibits trading on nonpublic information that they accessed in the course of their official duties for personal profit. Two GOP senators — Richard Burr of North Carolina and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia — have already faced accusations of improper trading, but maintain they did nothing wrong.
Burr, who leads the Intelligence Committee and is a member of the health committee, has insisted that he relied only on public information when selling off between $628,000 and $1.72 million in holdings in mid-February a week before the stock market plunged and after attending confidential briefings on the pandemic. Loeffler says her financial advisers make all the decisions for her and her husband’s stock portfolio. Her husband is CEO of the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange.
Still, the CLC believes the stock trades, even if not technically insider trading, create the appearance of a conflict of interest. They’re calling for new laws that would ban lawmakers from making individual stock trades altogether.
“Ground for suspicion remains as members of Congress buy and sell stock for their personal portfolios, while simultaneously picking winners and losers in the market as they craft economic stimulus packages,” the group wrote.
Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.