Last week we discussed the shocking revelation that Congress doesn’t keep any publicly available records of members of the House and Senate who are found to be in violation of the STOCK Act (the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act) or of the fines paid by members who are found to be in violation of the law. Despite some (shamefully limited) pressure from the media, it doesn’t sound as if our legislators plan to do anything about this in the near future. The only comment made by Speaker Pelosi when she was finally asked about it was taken straight from the playbook of Marie Antoinette, saying, “we have a free-market economy.” (That’s the 21st century equivalent of the incorrectly attributed quote, ‘let them eat cake.’)
Even if Congress doesn’t plan to do anything to correct this situation, the question may turn out to be an issue during the midterm campaign, and one Senate candidate in Missouri is trying to make it into a topic of debate already. Rather than forcing members to report all of their stock trades, Democratic candidate Lucas Kunce, a self-described “populist,” is calling for a complete ban on members owning and trading stocks while in office. And he wants those found to be in violation of the ban to be charged with insider trading under federal law and imprisoned if convicted. (Business Insider, reprinted at Yahoo News)
Fresh off a stint at the American Economic Liberties Project — an antitrust nonprofit that seeks to “challenge monopolies’ dominance over markets and society” — Kunce is running a Senate campaign centered on addressing monopoly power, lowering the costs of prescription drugs, getting tough on China, and passing a “Marshall Plan for the Midwest” designed to mirror nation-building efforts in the post-war landscapes of Iraq, Afghanistan, and late-1940s Europe.
He also touts a number of ethics reforms, including the abolition of corporate PACs, a ban on family members of senators and representatives from working as lobbyists, and of course, forbidding members of Congress and their spouses from owning stocks.
“This is insider trading,” he said. “They have access to information that other people just don’t have. I mean, this is why everybody hates Congress, right?”
Kunce is taking an admirable position here, but that’s always easier to do as an outsider. We frequently hear many candidates for Congress talking about term limits (for example) only to never hear a peep out of them again once they take office. And even if Kunce were to win Roy Blunt’s seat next November, he’d be coming in with no seniority or powerful committee positions to push such a reform through.
Kunce is also far from being a shoe-in for this seat. First of all, he’s entering a crowded Democratic primary field that includes some other popular members of his party. He would then face off against the winner of the GOP primary in a state that Donald Trump carried by 15 points last year. That’s not to say that it’s impossible for him to win. After all, Claire McCaskill pulled it off twice. But it’s far from a given that he can do it.
No matter who replaces Roy Blunt, it would be a shame if there was nobody talking about this STOCK Act issue besides Lucas Kunce. This isn’t just some minor technical issue we’re talking about. Business Insider has already uncovered 52 members of the House and Senate who missed their filing deadlines or otherwise ran afoul of this law and more than 200 senior staffers who have as well. (And they’re not done investigating yet.) These are the people who have the inside track in on pending congressional moves that can positively or negatively impact the fortunes of companies that have publicly traded stock. If any of them have been using that information to line their own pockets at the expense of the people they serve, they need to be held accountable.
To be clear, I’m still not a fan of creating bans on people’s opportunities to legally enrich themselves in our capitalist ecosystem. But when it comes to members of Congress, I’m just not sure if there’s a better solution. We’ve already seen some members caught playing these games and some have even gone to prison for it. But there are so many ways to game the system, particularly if the action is taken on behalf of family members, that temptation will always be too much for some of them. And the current rules don’t seem to be doing very much to discourage them.