One of the hallmarks of Donald Trump’s presidency was his sincere commitment to corruption on every level. Trump’s entire presidency was an exercise in kleptocracy, from his allegedly family-enriching inauguration to his failed coup after he lost his reelection bid. Jimmy Carter put his interest in the family peanut farm in a blind trust, but Trump’s family kept his hotels and everything else. The man who promised to “drain the swamp” installed his daughter and son-in-law as advisers, and benefited from the RNC paying legal fees and buying $300,000 worth of his son’s book.
The upside of all this? It presents Democrats with a legislative opportunity.
Banning congressional trading is a very popular idea. According to a survey from the conservative advocacy group Convention of States Action, “76 percent of voters believe that lawmakers and their spouses have an ‘unfair advantage’ in the stock market.” Democrats could use an enemy, something solid to run against, and corruption is something that is wildly unpopular for obvious reasons. At the same time, crusading against corruption is—or should be, at least—a bipartisan concern. This is the bold, popular messaging that the Democratic base could get excited about ahead of the midterms.
According to Edelman's 2022 global “Trust Barometer,” 66 percent of people worry that government leaders are “purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.” Brian Deese, the head of the National Economic Council and a Biden economic adviser, told Andrew Ross Sorkin on Squawk Box that banning members of Congress from trading on the public markets is “sensible” and could “restore faith in our institutions.”
“A ban on Congressional stock trading is about eradicating not only the substance but also the appearance of corruption. It is about giving the public confidence that Members of Congress are here to serve their interests, rather than our own,” Congressman Ritchie Torres, who represents part of the Bronx, texted me when I asked him if Democrats should press this issue.
But in December, when asked if members of Congress should be banned from trading stocks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “We are a free-market economy. [Members of Congress and their spouses] should be able to participate in that.” Pelosi may have personal reasons for saying this—she is fabulously wealthy and married to a venture capitalist. She is also squandering an opportunity. Over the past couple years, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle—approximately 75 of them—have traded stocks tied to the pandemic.