Making sure senators work to benefit us, not their stocks

Talk about low-down, dastardly conduct by a public official. In late January and early February, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., unloaded up to $1.72 million in stock when, as the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he was receiving daily briefings about the serious threat COVID-19 posed to the U.S. economy, as well as the health of its citizens.

He thus avoided the subsequent market collapse.

At the same time Burr was getting out while the getting was good, he was assuring citizens that “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.”

Burr has claimed innocence, saying it was not insider information from his daily COVID-19 briefings that persuaded him to dump stocks, but CNBC reports. How convenient.

Passed in 2012 and signed into law by President Barack Obama to prevent the abuses seen when members of Congress profited off the Great Recession, the STOCK Act was intended to stop this sort of thing. Until then, insider trading by senators and members of the House was legal. The act prohibits lawmakers from “using nonpublic information derived from their official positions for personal benefit.”

Three senators voted against it, among them Burr.

It requires Senate and House members to disclose stock trading, but the information does not have to be provided online and is, by design, difficult to access and interpret.

In addition to Burr, several other lawmakers made smart pre-pandemic investment decisions, though the North Carolina senator’s misconduct appears the clearest and most egregious abuse of power.

While well intentioned, the STOCK Act is inadequate. It is too difficult to prove an elected official acted on insider, rather than public, information.

That is why the House and Senate should pass, and President Trump sign, “The Ban Conflicted Trading Act” introduced by Democrats in both chambers. It would bar members of Congress and their senior staff from buying or selling individual stocks while in office.

Members could have holdings in blind trusts or participate in broad-based investments such as diversified mutual funds, which tend to rise and fall with the economy.

Buying and selling stocks while receiving non-public information, or making legislative decisions that affect your stock’s value, are clear conflicts of interest and degrade public trust. It’s long past time to outlaw it.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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