Biden Should Keep Campaign Promise by Reigniting STOCK Act Reform in Congress

Issues
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Joe Biden standing at a podium
President Joe Biden delivers remarks in National Statuary Hall on Thursday, January 6, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

As a candidate, President Joe Biden created a plan to, “guarantee government works for the people.” Among these reforms was a promise to work with Congress to enact legislation that would prevent members of Congress, “from being influenced by personal financial holdings.”

A year and a half into his term, the president has not taken any steps to achieve this reform. In fact, when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked in January 2022 about a proposal before Congress that would prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks, Psaki responded that President Biden will, “let members of leadership in Congress and members of Congress determine what the rules should be.”

This is a disappointing reversal from his campaign promise for several reasons. First, 56% of Americans do not trust the federal government to do what is right very often or at all. The public across the political spectrum finds congressional stock trading inherently suspicious, with a majority of Americans believing that members of Congress should not be allowed to trade stocks.

While prohibiting members of Congress from stock trading will not completely solve the lack of public trust, it will help alleviate some trust issues by allowing the voters and the public at large to know that members of Congress are not acting in their own financial interest when making legislative decisions.

Second, nothing has changed between when President Biden made this promise on the campaign trail and now. Throughout 2020 and 2021, 57 members of Congress violated the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, a law passed by Congress in 2012 to combat congressional insider trading.

Just this month, at least two reports have come out alleging possible STOCK Act violations by members of Congress. With stock trading reform efforts stalling in Congress, the president should be doubling down on his campaign promise, not backing away from it.

Finally, President Biden acknowledged that holdings other than treasury bonds, annuities and mutual funds could influence a public official when he stated that he and First Lady Jill Biden would not hold any assets beyond those while in office.

Members of Congress make decisions every day that could lead to lawmakers putting their financial interest over the public’s interest. The commitment Biden has for preventing conflicts of interest for the White House should equally extend to members of Congress, who face similar pressures when it comes to their own financial holdings.

It is more important now than ever that President Biden uphold his campaign promise. After months of negotiations and hearings on the issue, the legislative efforts seem to have stalled. Members of Congress face significant distrust and lack of confidence from members of the public, which is only exasperated by their prolific stock trading.

Knowing the corrosive influence stock trading has on a lawmaker, President Biden did not trade stocks when he served in the Senate, and he is not trading stocks as president. He promised the American people that he would advocate for them by pushing Congress to free itself from the inherent conflict of interest stock trading presents.

Voters have a right to know that public officials are working in their best interests. It is time for President Biden to keep his promise to ensure that members are not influenced by their own financial holdings. 

Danielle is a legal counsel on CLC's ethics team.
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