The following post was written by Rochester Hill resident Neil Oza, a longtime Democratic Party activist and now candidate for the Michigan State House in the 55th District.
As prices continue to rise across the board, the need for a level economic playing field is heightened too. Right now, members of Congress have the rare opportunity to pass widely popular, bipartisan legislation that would improve the odds of a fair shot for everyone participating in our economy and address growing public distrust in Washington. Banning congressional stock trading is not just a smart political move, it’s also the right thing to do.
According to a report released late last year, dozens of members of Congress and their staff violated the STOCK Act by failing to disclose numerous large stock trades. And although the law prohibits Congress from using “nonpublic information” for trading, there is virtually no enforcement of this rule or the disclosure requirements.
We need more leaders like Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Rep. Haley Stevens, Rep. Daniel Kildee, and Rep. Elissa Slotkin, all over Michigan, who understand that conflicts of interest – and even just the appearance of conflicts – undermine their credibility as government officials and weaken overall integrity of our institutions. This isn’t about the individual ethics of individual members. It’s about whether the public can trust that the rules are strong enough to prevent insider trading from impacting the policymaking process. Right now, they are not. Proposals like the TRUST in Congress Act and the Ban Congressional Stock Trading Act would go a long way towards making these rules strong enough.
Banning congressional stock trading would minimize opportunities for corruption and help restore trust that our elected officials are operating in the public interest, not their own financial interests. While opponents claim this could deter savvy businesspeople from running for office, the argument garners little sympathy from me. Strong rules haven’t prevented successful individuals from serving in the executive branch, even the ultra-rich. And more importantly, Congress works for the public. Nobody is forced to run for office. Whether you’re running for office or starting a business, your stakeholders deserve to know you will be accountable to them at the end of the day.
As the nonpartisan, independent Project on Government Oversight noted, Congress has exempted itself from past conflict-of-interest laws it imposed on the other branches of government. Members of Congress have access to insider information and make decisions all the time that affect stock values. Those of them who oppose these measures should explain to the public why they believe they should continue being held to lower standards than even entry-level executive branch employees.
After all our government has asked of us over the past few years, we deserve to know our representatives are working for us. In January, a Fox News poll found that 70% of surveyed voters supported “[b]anning current members of Congress and their immediate family and staff from trading stocks.” Americans on both sides of the aisle agree: lawmakers should not be playing by a different set of rules than the rest of us when it comes to the economy.
Ultimately, continued inaction on this bipartisan issue is a missed opportunity. A ban on stock trading for members of Congress and their immediate families is a step in the right direction as public trust in government nears all-time lows. I hope the remaining members of Michigan’s delegation seize this opportunity and champion these much-needed reforms.