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AOC pushed back on Nancy Pelosi's stance against banning congressional stock-trading: 'We write major policy and have access to sensitive information'

Business Insider logo Business Insider 12/18/2021 bmetzger@insider.com (Bryan Metzger)
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a news conference at the US Capitol on June 16, 2021. Alex Wong/Getty Images © Alex Wong/Getty Images Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a news conference at the US Capitol on June 16, 2021. Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • AOC pushed back on Pelosi after she rejected the idea of banning members of congress from owning stock.
  • AOC says it should be banned because members "write major policy and have access to sensitive information."
  • Insider recently found that 52 members of congress and 182 senior staffers have violated the STOCK Act.

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pushed back against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's rejection of a ban on members of Congress from trading and holding individual stock while in office.

In a series of tweets on Friday evening, Ocasio-Cortez reiterated her prior opposition to members trading individual stock while in office, writing that the practice is inappropriate when members "write major policy and have access to sensitive information."

Earlier this week, Insider's "Conflicted Congress" investigation identified the myriad ways members of the US House and Senate have undermined their own ethical standards, skirted consequences, and, as Insider's Dave Levinthal reported, blinded Americans to the many moments when lawmakers' personal finances clash with their public duties.  

The investigation revealed that 15 lawmakers tasked with shaping US defense policy actively invest in military contractors, over a dozen environmentally-minded Democrats invest in fossil fuel companies or other corporations with concerning environmental track records, and many members regularly chide "the media" but personally pour their money into at least one of the nation's largest news media or social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Comcast, Disney, and the New York Times Co.

Ocasio-Cortez pointed to other ways in which members could still invest without running into conflicts of interest, including thrift savings plans or index funds. Ocasio-Cortez has previously co-sponsored a bill to ban the practice, while several members of Congress have touted "blind trusts" as another avenue to avoid ethical quandaries.

The New York lawmaker went on to tie congressional stock-trading to the issue of inadequate compensation for members of Congress, writing that they will vote against increasing pay for members and staffers alike in the name of "fiscal responsibility" only to "compensate by engaging in this highly questionable trading."

"It incentivizes this bad behavior," she added.

 

While members of Congress aren't exactly strapped — both senators and House members make at least $174,000 per year — Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that the job comes with unique burdens as well.


Video: Velshi: Pelosi says members of Congress should be able to trade stock. She’s wrong. (MSNBC)

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"Many don't know it requires paying 2 rents," she wrote. She went on to say that members of congress are "trading stock to make up for" not being compensated enough to do the job without engaging in ethically dubious practices.

That same logic also applies to high-level congressional staffers, who are often privy to the same sensitive, privileged information as their bosses. Earlier this year, Insider examined the issue of inadequate pay for congressional staffers, including how many are forced into taking second jobs to make up for it.

All of this comes in the wake of Insider's own five-month "Conflicted Congress" investigation, which has found that dozens of members of congress have violated the insider-trading prevention law known as the "Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge" (STOCK) Act, which requires timely disclosure of these stock trades.

Insider also found that at least 182 senior congressional staffers violated that law. And just this week, Insider identified 2 more Democrats in Congress who have failed to properly comply with the STOCK Act.

'It cannot be a perk of the job' 

Speaker Pelosi at her weekly news conference on December 15. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Speaker Pelosi at her weekly news conference on December 15. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Pelosi made headlines on Wednesday after Insider asked her whether she would support banning members of Congress and their spouses from trading individual stock while serving in Congress.

"We are a free-market economy. They should be able to participate in that," she responded, rejecting the idea. She also said that she had not heard of Insider's investigation.

Pelosi's husband, investor Paul Pelosi, frequently trades significant numbers of stocks. With her husband's assets considered, Pelosi ranks among the wealthiest members of Congress, an Insider analysis found.

"The speaker does not own any stocks," spokesman Drew Hamill told Insider on Wednesday. "As you can see from the required disclosures, with which the speaker fully cooperates, these transactions are marked 'SP' for spouse. The speaker has no prior knowledge or subsequent involvement in any transactions."

In addition to Ocasio-Cortez, Pelosi's remarks caught the ire of several members of her own caucus. Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey said that he "strongly" disagreed with the speaker, writing that "we need to show we serve the people, not our personal/political self-interest." Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia said that "it cannot be a perk of the job for Members to trade on access to information."

Ocasio-Cortez's fellow "Squad" member, Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York, said that members holding stock "fuels corporate interests" in congress.

 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has also introduced bills to ban stock-trading by members of Congress, told Insider on Tuesday that "the American people should never have to guess whether or not an elected official is advancing an issue or voting on a bill based on what's good for the country or what's good for their own personal financial interests." 

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