Ethics Group: 7 House Members Are Violating The STOCK Act : NPR


imageEnlarge this image Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange this summer.Members of Congress are required to disclose their stock transactions under a law known as the STOCK Act, but an outside ethics group filed complaints noting that some lawmakers are violating the rules.Timothy A.Clary/AFP via Getty Images Timothy A.Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange this summer.Members of Congress are required to disclose their stock transactions under a law known as the STOCK Act, but an outside ethics group filed complaints noting that some lawmakers are violating the rules.

Timothy A.Clary/AFP via Getty Images An outside ethics group on Wednesday filed ethics complaints against seven U.S.

House lawmakers — four Democrats and three Republicans — for failing to report stock trades.

One of the members of Congress — New York Democratic Rep.Tom Suozzi — failed to file required reports on approximately 300 transactions, according to the complaint from the Campaign Legal Center (CLC).

Five of the seven lawmakers sit on the powerful House Financial Services Committee.

It’s the latest example of a bipartisan trend that has emerged almost 10 years after Congress overwhelmingly passed a law to provide transparency and show lawmakers aren’t profiting from their jobs: Members of Congress are ignoring the disclosure law.

Under the STOCK Act — “Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge” — lawmakers must file a report when they buy or sell stock.The form, known as a periodic transaction report (PTR), must be submitted within 45 days of the transaction and is then made public.To date most allegations of STOCK Act violations involve members filing months — or in some cases more than a year — after the required window for submitting a report.

Investigations TikTokers Are Trading Stocks By Copying What Members Of Congress Do What makes the complaints filed Wednesday different is that it appears these members never filed reports at all.The CLC is asking the Office of Congressional Ethics, the outside, nonpartisan entity that screens cases and can make referrals to the House Ethics Committee, to look into these members’ activities.

CLC learned about the issues after reviewing financial disclosure forms for all members of Congress.

They compared the 2019 forms with the 2020 forms and discovered discrepancies with these lawmakers’ holdings.But they did not find any PTRs to reflect the new transactions.

Group says seven lawmakers failed to disclose trades The ethics complaints filed Wednesday are against Suozzi, Iowa Democratic Rep.Cindy Axne, Ohio Republican Rep.Warren Davidson, Texas Republican Rep.

Lance Gooden, Democratic Guam Delegate Michael San Nicholas, Virginia Democratic Rep.Bobby Scott and Texas Republican Rep.Roger Williams.

“The lack of accountability we’ve seen in regard to STOCK Act compliance is basically giving elected officials the green light to buy and sell stocks based on information gained from committee meetings without any transparency for their voters,” Kedric Payne, general counsel and senior director of ethics at Campaign Legal Center, said in a written statement.

Axne, Davidson, Gooden, San Nicolas and Williams all sit on the House Financial Services Committee.

New York Democratic Rep.Tom Suozzi failed to file required reports on approximately 300 stock transactions, according to a complaint from the Campaign Legal Center.John Minchillo/AP John Minchillo/AP The values and number of transactions vary in the seven complaints from the CLC.According to CLC’s legal filings:

Axne didn’t file any PTRs in 2019 and 2020 and the CLC complaint indicates that it found more than 40 assets with a total value of $43,043 to $645,000.The complaint against Davidson lists the sale of Workhorse Group stock worth between $50,000 and $100,000 in 2020, but notes no disclosure form was filed.Gooden’s annual financial disclosure reflects a dozen stocks purchases (American Airlines, APA Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Delta, Hertz, Luckin Coffee, Marathon Oil, Occidental, Ovintiv, Plains All American Pipeline, Sotherly Hotels, and United American Holdings) that were valued between $60,019 and $376,000 in 2020.

But no PTRs were filed disclosing the initial investments, according to the complaint .

San Nicholas failed to file reports for two trades, according to the complaint — one in 2019 for a call option in Yamana Gold and one in 2020 for Livent stock valued between $15,000 and $52,370.Scott did not disclose four stock transactions in 2020 worth between approximately $4,004 and $60,000.These were purchases for Air Products and Chemicals, Carlisle Companies, Linde plc and RPM International, according to the complaint Suozzi failed to disclose approximately 300 transactions from 2017 to 2020, according to the CLC complaint , with a value of $3.2 million to $11 million.

This included roughly 64 transactions in 2017 valued between $456,064 and $1,868,000; 31 transactions in 2018 valued between $528,031 and $1,445,00; 104 transactions in 2019 worth $1.1 million and $3,8 million; and 104 in 2020 worth between $1.1 million and 44 million.He disclosed the trades on annual disclosures but did not file PTRs.

Williams did not file PTRs for three stock sales in 2019.The complaint lists sales of three assets by a spouse in 2019 — General Electric, Nvidia and Walt Disney Company worth a total value of approximately $3,003 to $45,000.NPR reached out to all seven members for a response to the complaints.

In a written statement to NPR, Gooden dismissed the complaint, saying, “There were no transactions above the reporting threshold for PTRs which is why none were filed.I would encourage anyone filing frivolous ethics complaints to consult page 41 of the 2020 Financial Disclosure Guide regarding the rule on PTRs.”

A spokesperson for Suozzi said, “The Congressman’s investments are managed through independent advisors with discretion over all transactions.Every transaction has been reported on his annual financial disclosure and all proper periodic disclosures will be filed on a going forward basis.”

The story will be updated with any additional responses.

Questions about enforcement remain In early 2020, PTR disclosures revealed investment activity by several senators followed briefings on the pandemic — before the markets collapsed — and the emerging public health threat.

The senators’ investment actions came under intense scrutiny.

The Justice Department reviewed allegations of insider trading, but closed the cases without any charges.

New York Democratic Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand, who worked as an attorney before entering public office, helped write the STOCK Act.She points to the Justice Department investigations as proof the law is working.

“We’ve had several examples where members of Congress bought or sold stocks that pertain to their work, and there actually were follow-up investigations to see whether or not they bought or sold those stocks based on nonpublic inside information,” Gillibrand told NPR.

She maintains that the authority the statute gave the the Justice Department to prosecute members is the primary method to ensure the law is working.She said the ethics committees have oversight roles, “but the purpose of the STOCK Act was to make it very clear that these are criminal violations.”

Oregon Democratic Sen.Jeff Merkley voted for the 2012 law, and is blunt about how it’s working now.”The STOCK Act is pretty much useless,” Merkley told NPR.

He believes the major issue is enforcement.

“It’s extremely difficult to know when a person in Congress has traded stocks because of information they heard publicly versus information that they’ve heard privately.”

Law DOJ Drops Insider Trading Investigation Into Sen.Richard Burr

The Coronavirus Crisis Sen.Richard Burr’s Pre-Pandemic Stock Sell-Offs Highly Unusual, Analysis Shows Before the CLC filed its latest complaints, the group had already lodged about a half dozen other complaints to the ethics committees about possible violations of the STOCK Act.

In the Senate, the organization pressed the ethics committee in August to look into Kentucky GOP Sen.

Rand Paul, who reported his wife’s purchase of pharmaceutical stock for a manufacturer of an antiviral drug over a year later.This drug was later approved to treat COVID-19.Paul noted his wife lost money on the trade and it was an oversight that the form was not filed on time.

The CLC also filed a complaint against Alabama Republican Sen.

Tommy Tuberville for improperly disclosing over 100 transactions.Tuberville said he was unaware of the late reports but submitted the information.

“At least 15 members from the House and Senate have not complied with the requirement to disclose their stock trades.

But we are not aware of any fines that the ethics committees have required these members to pay,” the Campaign Legal Center’s Payne said.The ethics panels can launch their own reviews.

But so far no lawmaker in the House or Senate has faced any formal sanction related to the STOCK Act.And while they may get fined, those fines are not made public.

Payne worries that the scrutiny following the senators’ investments after the pandemic briefing appears to have given some members pause about filing forms on time.”Right now, it seems to be a trend that members …just wait until the end of the year, file the report, and completely ignore the STOCK Act.

So they are circumventing this rule and doing it without any consequence.”

Instead it’s fallen to watchdog groups like Payne’s or media outlets like Business Insider to bring violations to light.Insider found Utah Republican Blake Moore filed late .He said that was an oversight and NPR confirmed he has paid a fine.The publication has also reported on others, including New Jersey Democratic Rep.Tom Malinowski, who transferred his assets to a blind trust after he faced questions about not reporting dozens of trades.NPR learned Malinowski paid a $200 fine.

Proposal to ban lawmakers from trading stocks

Enlarge this image Sen.Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., thinks it’s time to ban all lawmakers from trading individual stocks altogether.

“It is not a popular topic among my colleagues,” Merkley told NPR dryly.Drew Angerer/Getty Images Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Sen.Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., thinks it’s time to ban all lawmakers from trading individual stocks altogether.”It is not a popular topic among my colleagues,” Merkley told NPR dryly.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images Merkley thinks it’s time to ban all lawmakers from trading individual stocks altogether.

“It is a huge conflict of interest for someone to be trading in, say, pharmaceutical stocks at the same time as making policy for pharmaceutical companies,” he said.He has introduced a bill that would require members to divest within six months of taking office, and limit investments to mutual funds.

“It is not a popular topic among my colleagues,” Merkley said dryly.He said without a change members keep themselves open to new allegations.”I can guarantee you that every year there’ll be a scandal related to stock trading.”

He has support from some of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, including Gillibrand.

But she also said there’s also a need for a STOCK Act 2.0, to look at all the different ways members may benefit financially from their work.One new development she flagged is that lawmakers received small business loans from the COVID-19 relief bills.

“There were several examples of members of Congress who were first in line to get those payouts.

That is not what the American public would expect members of Congress to be doing,” Gillibrand said..

And she thinks transparency regarding investments needs to go beyond Capitol Hill.Gillibrand said she has “deep concerns about the judiciary and the Supreme Court.” She noted that justices are allowed to take privately funded trips paid for by people who have interests before the court.

Congress created the STOCK Act to ensure transparency.But if nothing changes and more lawmakers keep failing to report their investments, it will be tough for the public to know whether the people they elected are making decisions to benefit their constituents, or themselves..

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