Sherrod Brown is calling on his fellow Senators, Democrats and Republicans alike, to take a stand on a simple question: Should Senators be allowed to own stock in companies whose bottom lines are directly affected by their votes?
Senator Brown tells me he is introducing a measure in the Senate today that would require all Senators to divest themselves of any stocks in companies that are impacted by their actions as a Senator. The idea is that members of Congress — who are suffering historically low approval ratings while enjoying historically high levels of personal wealth — have some work to do in building confidence that the institution is representing the public interest, rather than the interests of the wealthy and well-connected, some of whom are, well, them.
“Members of the House and Senate should not be voting on issues that affect their financial investments,” Brown told me. “We have the privilege of holding these jobs.There should be no perception that we’re benefitting. We need to show the public we mean business.”
Brown will introduce the measure — which could very well get a vote — as an amendment to the STOCK Act that’s currently being debated in the Senate. The STOCK Act would ban insider stock trading in Congress, preventing members of Congress from using “non public information” derived from their position to explicitly enrich themselves. But the STOCK proposal doesn’t address the far more pervasive situation in which members are casting votes that directly impact companies they have a financial stake in.
Brown says he supports the STOCK Act, but that it isn’t good enough. His proposal would formally prohibit members from owning individual stock in any companies directly affected by any of their official duties. This rule already applies to committee staff and executive branch employees, but not officials elected to the legislative branch.
“The STOCK Act really only deals with insider trading — that’s a small number of people,” Brown says. “I want to see us go further. Why should members of the Senate vote on issues that affect the oil industry while owning oil industry stock? This is pure, it’s simple, it’s clean, it’s direct.”
Depending on the usual horse trading over amendments, Brown’s measure very well could get a vote, if Senate leaders agree. If it does, it will put some Senators in both parties in an awkward spot — including Senator Scott Brown, a STOCK Act co-sponsor who in the past has owned stock in companies he’s legislated on.
And if Brown’s amendment doesn’t even get a vote, that won’t exactly send an exemplary or reassuring message about the Senate’s commitment to ethics and clean govenrment.
UPDATE: This proposal is the first legislative vehicle to accomplish what Obama called for in his State of Union speech, in which he said: “Let’s limit any elected official from owning stocks in industries they impact.”
So in theory it would seem difficult for Senate Dems not to support this, or some version of it.
This will also become an issue in the Massachusetts Senate race: Elizabeth Warren has already vowed to divest in the stock she owns if elected to the Senate. So Massachusetts Dems will likely demand that Scott Brown take a stand on this latest proposal.