Pelosi defends lawmakers trading stocks despite media exposé of conflicts

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Nancy Pelosi simply tried to wave away any suggestion of conflicts of interest.

A journalist at her weekly briefing asked about a bombshell report in Business Insider that 49 members of Congress have violated federal law with their prodigious stock trading. Not to mention 182 senior Hill aides.

Should this sort of thing be allowed?

Sure, said the House speaker. “Because this is a free market,” and “a free-market economy, they should be able to participate in that.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with reporters at the Capitol in Washington. 
(Associated Press)

That is such an inadequate answer on so many levels. In fact, CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin called it “one of the most disappointing,” and “disgraceful” comments he’s heard on the issue.

“What a disgusting comment,” former government ethics chief Walter Shaub told Fox News. “This is the opposite of government ethics.”

Yet the brief exchange was all but lost, drowned out by all the Jan. 6 investigation news and other stories.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conducts a news conference on Capitol Hill.
(Getty Images)

Before delving into the mind-numbing legalities, let me just say that the whole thing just smells bad. The optics are awful. Members of Congress have all kinds of access to all kinds of confidential and classified information, rousing suspicions that they have an unfair advantage in buying and selling stocks. 

Business Insider ran an exposé, prompting the question to the speaker, saying that 49 members of Congress – along with 182 senior Hill aides – violated a federal conflict-of-interest law. This, by the way, has been a bipartisan practice.

Among the findings: Almost 75 lawmakers holding stocks in Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, which make the Covid vaccines, were trading those stocks in the early weeks of the pandemic.

Another 15 lawmakers overseeing defense policy actively invest in military contractors.

And some members who rip “the media” invest in such companies as the New York Times, Disney, Comcast, Facebook and Twitter.

The list goes on, from tobacco to Bitcoin.

This undermines faith in government. I don’t see why any member of Congress should be allowed to trade individual stocks, as opposed to diversified mutual funds.

At least one prominent Democrat agrees. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that it’s “absolutely ludicrous” for members to be able to own and trade stocks “with the info we have.”

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

Now insider trading is a hard rap to prove, requiring evidence that the person traded on non-public information and intended to break the law.

Congress tried to reform this mess back in 2012 with a law making clear that insider-trading laws apply to staffers in all three branches of government. Members of Congress and some administration officials are required to report their trades within 45 days.

“We have a responsibility to report,” Pelosi said at the presser. “If people aren’t reporting, they should be.”

But the 45-day delay obviously doesn’t allow for real-time media scrutiny – and violators, when they’re caught, may pay minimal fines.

The only recent prosecution came in 2019, when then-Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Collins pleaded guilty to notifying his son about confidential information he’d obtained about a drug company’s failed trial, causing the stock to plummet.

I’m surprised Pelosi, whose husband owns millions in stocks, was so dismissive of a situation that reeks of unfairness.

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