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The Supreme Court has an ethics problem. As a prominent retired federal judge has encouraged his former judicial colleagues, it’s time for the justices on America’s highest court to look in the mirror.
But they are not the only federal officials who need to look in the mirror. Even as members of Congress, particularly but not exclusively Democrats, are raising concerns after recent reports about the Supreme Court, they should remember that their own ethical requirements could use an update as well.
We’ve heard at least one suggestion that, rather than be concerned about the Supreme Court, Congress should be addressing its own problems with weak rules around stock trading. This should not be an either/or scenario. Both of these branches of the federal government — along with the executive branch, by the way — have work to do in terms of shoring up ethical standards and giving Americans more confidence that they are not profiting personally from their public roles.
It has become abundantly clear that Congress needs tougher rules around owning and trading stocks. The STOCK Act, a 2012 law aimed at preventing lawmaker insider trading, has proved difficult to enforce, even in cases where a conflict of interest has been overwhelmingly apparent. We and others have long concluded that the best way to address this is an all-out ban.
There has been plenty of talk on this issue. Former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, was against such a ban until that opposition weakened amid significant pressure and attention surrounding her husband’s stock trading. But actual progress on this issue did not materialize last Congress. New Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican also from California, has agreed that Congress has a problem when it comes to stock trading.
The talk needs to turn into action. A new bill introduced by an ideologically broad group of representatives provides one path.
The Bipartisan Restoring Faith in Government Act was introduced recently by four very different members of Congress, whose diverse perspectives overlap to recognize this clear need for better safeguarding the trust of the American people. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a progressive Democrat from New York, Rep. Matt Gaetz is a conservative firebrand from Florida and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi is a Democrat from Illinois whose voting record puts him toward the middle of his party ideologically. They all agree that members of Congress, their spouses and their dependents should not be trading stocks while in Congress.
We agree too, for what it’s worth.
“The fact that members of the Progressive Caucus, the Freedom Caucus, and the Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, reflecting the entirety of the political spectrum, can find common ground on key issues like this should send a powerful message to America,” Fitzpatrick said in a May 2 statement. “We must move forward on issues that unite us, including our firm belief that trust in government must be restored, and that Members of Congress, including their dependents, must be prohibited from trading in stocks while they are serving in Congress and have access to sensitive, inside information. This is basic common sense and basic Integrity 101. And we all view this as a critical first step to return the House of Representatives back to the People. I thank Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, Gaetz, and Krishnamoorthi for joining me in this effort.”
This group of lawmakers is not new to the issue. Several of them signed a letter last year led by Maine 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden calling on House leaders to bring congressional stock trading legislation to the floor.
“Americans across the political spectrum support banning members of Congress from trading stocks. According to recent polling, 76 percent of Americans — including 70 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Republicans, and 80 percent of independents — say that members of congress should not be allowed to trade stocks,” Golden and his colleagues wrote in January 2022. “At a time when public confidence in Congress is low, holding ourselves to this standard would be an important step to earn back their trust.”
We asked Golden’s office if it has had time to review the Bipartisan Restoring Faith in Government Act, and if it’s something Golden might support or co-sponsor. We did not hear back. But we hope he, and many lawmakers, continue to recognize that Congress needs to do a better job policing their own behavior when it comes to stock trading.
Like the Supreme Court, Congress must take stronger steps to give Americans confidence that they are not benefiting personally from their public office.