The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Spanberger has centered a stock-trading ban. Pelosi says a vote is coming.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) talks with attendees after speaking at a news conference at the Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Va., in August. (Win Mcnamee/Getty Images)
correction

A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and her husband own Alibaba stock. They did own the stock, but have since sold it. The article has been updated.

For months, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) has pushed for a vote on a congressional stock-trading ban, at one point even spoofing a Taylor Swift album cover in support of the legislation.

“Thank you, Taylor. Thinking about Members of Congress trading individual stocks also keeps me up in the middle of the night,” Spanberger’s official account posted on Twitter, upping her meme game as she and other bipartisan lawmakers launched a full-court press for a floor vote to ban themselves from trading stocks.

Now, Spanberger and the bipartisan group might be getting their wish: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in her Wednesday news conference that “we believe we have a product we can bring to the floor this month,” referring to a compromise bill expected to blend different proposals on banning lawmakers and their families from trading individual stocks while in office.

Should the House take up and pass that bill, it could be a major legislative win for Spanberger in particular, given the vulnerable Virginia Democrat has made the issue a priority in her second term and centered the effort as part of her competitive reelection campaign. She highlighted her push to end congressional stock trading in a campaign ad last week that functioned broadly as an identity statement about her mission in Congress.

But the timeline isn’t so clear in the Senate, and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told Business Insider on Thursday that it’s not happening before the midterms. In an interview Wednesday evening, Spanberger said she was only “cautiously, tentatively optimistic” after Pelosi’s comments. She noted that she and others who worked on similar bills were not included in negotiations for the compromise legislation, put together largely behind closed doors on the House Administration Committee chaired by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and she has yet to see the framework.

Pelosi did not reveal details of the compromise legislation Wednesday, but a spokesman for the House Administration Committee said Lofgren is briefing members about the framework this week.

“The irony is not lost on me that this is supposed to be good governance reform so that there’s greater transparency in the system,” Spanberger said, “so it’s a bit comical that this process has been so unusual.”

Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, said Spanberger’s vocal push to police lawmakers’ stock-trading abilities hits a sweet spot in politics: finding a unifying issue that taps into people’s frustration with elites in Washington that transcends party lines.

While insider trading is already illegal, banning members of Congress — as well as their immediate family members or staff members — from trading stocks has found broad bipartisan support nationally, with a January Fox News poll finding 70 percent of voters favoring a ban and Trump and Biden voters favoring the proposal in almost equal numbers.

“The stock-trading issue is exactly the optimal issue for a candidate,” Farnsworth said. “Voters will overwhelmingly say, ‘Why should lawmakers be able to trade on information not available to the public?’ And the argument against it is hardly compelling.”

Spanberger said the issue has frequently come up as she campaigns across the district, “and I will hear people say, ‘I’m a Republican, I don’t really agree with you on much,’ and then there’s the giant ‘But’ ” — they agree on banning stock trading.

The issue has proven broadly bipartisan in Congress as well, and in fact Spanberger and her co-lead on the bill, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), are odd partners themselves. Their proposal, the TRUST in Congress Act, would require members and their spouses and dependent children to put their individual stocks in a blind trust while in office to prevent insider trading or even the appearance of it. Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) introduced a similar bill, and several other similar bipartisan proposals are floating around Congress.

The bipartisan coalition — ranging from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) — sent a letter to leadership earlier this month pressing for a floor vote and laying out shared principles they hoped to see in the final product.

Pelosi’s comments Wednesday came on the heels of a New York Times investigation finding that nearly a fifth of members of Congress made stock trades while in office that posed a potential conflict of interest because of work they do in Congress, including half the Virginia delegation, who each explained the transactions to the Times. Lofgren was among the lawmakers whose spouse made transactions flagged as potential conflicts by the Times. She has said a banking person handles her husband’s trades, and she herself is not engaged.

Good-government groups have joined in pushing House leadership to bring a stock-trading ban to a vote. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington published an open letter to members Wednesday, decrying dwindling trust in public institutions and urging members to publicly endorse the stock-trading ban. “With members of Congress from both parties flouting basic financial conflict of interest laws, and appearing to personally profit off their positions of public trust, Americans are understandably questioning whether their government works on their behalf,” the letter said.

Pushback to the efforts to ban lawmakers and family members from stock trading while in office has been bipartisan, too.

One notable example, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) threw cold water on the concept in February, calling it “bulls---.” “Why would you assume that members of Congress are going to be inherently bad or corrupt?” Luria told Punchbowl News then. “We already have the Stock Act that requires people to report stock trades.” Luria and her husband hold millions in stocks, according to financial disclosures, including in tech giants such as Facebook and Nvidia, though she was not among the lawmakers the Times identified for potential issues.

In another bipartisan twist, while for Spanberger the stock-trading ban may be a campaign highlight, for Luria it opened up a potential vulnerability: Luria’s opponent, state Sen. Jen A. Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) ran a 15-second ad spotlighting Luria’s comments to Punchbowl, while pledging to support a stock-trading ban if she were to be elected.

Asked whether she would support a stock-trading ban if Pelosi put it to the floor this month, a spokesman for Luria said that she would review the proposal once it was unveiled and would make a determination then. “She firmly believes that insider trading should be punished to the fullest extent of the law and public servants must be held to the highest standards of ethics possible,” the spokesman, Jayce Genco, said.

A spokesman for Spanberger’s opponent, Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega (R), said she would vote for a stock-trading ban if elected. Like Spanberger, Vega does not report owning any stocks in her financial disclosure.

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