Lawmakers and experts sparred over proposed regulations on the ability of members to trade stocks while in office.
The House Administration Committee heard from five experts on financial ethics and government accountability during a hearing about the ethics of trading stocks while in office, where lawmakers potentially have access to lucrative, nonpublic information. The Thursday hearing followed an uproar in recent months over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband making millions off stock trades.
Republicans have been divided over the idea of blocking members, top staffers, and their immediate families from owning individual stocks, a sentiment the committee's minority made clear in its questioning of the experts, who generally favored demanding that members divest or put assets into a blind trust.
NANCY PELOSI IS WRONG — MEMBERS OF CONGRESS HAVE NO REASON TO TRADE STOCKS
Rep. Rodney Davis, the ranking member and an Illinois Republican, said middle-class lawmakers shouldn't be faced with the choice of either divesting from their stocks or risk looking corrupt if they don't have enough assets to warrant a blind trust.
"There's a common theme here that corrupt people do corrupt things, and we should make sure that corrupt people don't have an opportunity to do that," he said. "But our goal also is to make sure that those who want to follow the law and those who want to follow transparency measures have the ability to do so without being labeled corrupt."
He contended that most violations of the 2012 STOCK Act, requiring transparency in members' stock trading, are not "malicious but inadvertent," suggesting members are not adequately educated on compliance.
Donald Sherman, chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington advocated a near-total ban on members of Congress or their families owning or trading stock to avoid both corruption and the appearance of corruption.
"A ban is necessary because unlike other officials and other branches of government, recusal is not a viable option for members of Congress," he said.
During questioning, Davis asked if he was talking about "forced divestment."
"Well, you use 'force.' I would say that being in public service is a choice," Sherman responded.
Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk, another committee Republican, said excluding members from the stock trade was a violation of their right to participate in the economy.
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"Everybody in this committee is a free American citizen that has rights, and part of those rights is explicitly defined by our founders ... to participate in a free market society," he said.
Loudermilk echoed Pelosi's defense of her husband's fortuitous portfolio, saying in December, "We are a free market economy. [Members] should be able to participate in that."
The December revelation that Paul Pelosi had acquired millions of dollars' worth of stocks in huge companies his wife helps to regulate reignited the debate over the ethics of trading stocks while having a finger in the wind. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have disavowed the practice, including New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes and California GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy, while others have maintained their right to conduct business how they wish.