Bill to Restrict Stock Trading by Lawmakers, Presidents Unveiled by Democrats

(Bloomberg) -- A House proposal to restrict stock ownership and trading by members of Congress, and other top US officials, including the president, has stalled.

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Democratic infighting put off movement on the measure, frustrating expectations by supporters of a victory before the November midterm elections. Multiple House officials familiar with Democrats’ discussions said any floor action on the measure, which was introduced on Wednesday, has been shelved, at least for now.

Lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington this week until after the midterms.

“I think that’s probably accurate,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Wednesday night, confirming that a vote this week is unlikely.

Hoyer pointed out that the bill’s text was only circulated among members late Tuesday night, and that “it’s a very serious issue.” He said lawmakers should have a chance to go through it, but “that does not mean it is not going to be considered.”

The bill’s main sponsor, House Administration Chair Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat. responded: “That’s a leadership decision, not my decision on whether bills come up.”

Lofgren described the reception the bill is getting as “pretty positive,” but that “we’re Democrats. You know, we always have a point of view.” She added that delaying a vote beyond this week should not taken as any signal about its chances. “I don’t think so because the Senate is not going to get theirs done this week, either, she said.

Other officials, who did not want to be identified in discussing private conversations, described deep divisions among top party leaders over details of the bill. Democrats in competitive races oppose parts of the legislation and don’t want to take a politically difficult vote just weeks before the election, the officials said. A group of senators is drafting their own legislation, but it hasn’t been unveiled and the Senate doesn’t have any immediate plans to take up the bill.

But some Democrats are urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her lieutenants to act before the midterm elections on good-governance legislation taking aim at conflicts of interest at the highest levels of the government. Forcing a vote now has the added bonus of putting Republicans on the spot, they said.

The legislation would require public officials to divest current holdings or put them in a blind trust. It would also tighten disclosure requirements and increase penalties for violations. The vice president, Supreme Court justices, cabinet officers and other top government officials would face the restrictions as well.

The bill’s trade and ownership restrictions cover commodities, futures, cryptocurrency or other digital assets as well as stocks. Also covered are interests acquired through derivatives, including options.

The bill would apply to the spouses and dependent children of the listed officials, as indicated last week to lawmakers in an outline by Lofgren.

That has been a point of contention, with some attention falling on Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi. Some of his recent transactions, while legal, helped to draw renewed attention to the current law governing lawmakers’ trades that critics say should be changed. A Pelosi spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the bill.

According to the bill’s text, the “supervising ethics office” for each government branch would be called on to issue regulations implementing the the bill’s provisions within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.

Congressional leaders have faced intensifying calls in the past year to adopt new rules governing lawmakers’ financial activities. A New York Times analysis of disclosure forms published earlier this month found that from 2019 to 2021, almost 100 senators and representatives reported that they or an immediate family member traded a stock or other financial asset that had some overlap with issues before congressional committees on which they served.

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