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Competing bills could ban lawmakers from trading stocks while in office

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA)(L) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO).

Senators from both sides of the aisle have introduced bills to ban members of Congress and their immediate family members from trading stocks while in office, amid growing scrutiny over the practice.

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-GA, introduced a bill with Sen. Mark Kelly, D-AZ, which would require members of Congress, their spouses and dependent children to place their portfolios into blind trusts while in office. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-KS, dropped a similar bill, though his version would not ban dependent children from trading.

"Members of Congress should not be playing the stock market while we make federal policy and have extraordinary access to confidential information," Ossoff said in a press release, which says that he and Kelly have both placed their own portfolios into blind trusts.

Ossoff's bill is similar to one first introduced by Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-VA, and Chip Roy, R-TX, last year. 

Lawmakers who violate Ossoff and Kelly's Ban Congressional Stock Trading Act would pay a fine equal to their Congressional salary for the year. Those who violate Hawley's bill, on the other hand, would be required to pay any profits to the U.S. Treasury. Lawmakers could also face additional fines by the Senate or House ethics committees.

Talks around the stock trading bans have picked up steam over the past few months, as lawmakers have come under fire from seemingly profiting off of the Covid-19 pandemic. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, have been vocal in support of prohibiting lawmakers from buying and selling stock while in office.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, said last month that members should be able to trade. "We're a free market economy," she said during a press conference.

Technically, members of Congress have been banned from trading on nonpublic information since 2012, when the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge, or STOCK, Act, became law. But the Ossoff and Hawley bills would ban buying and selling altogether while in office.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, is currently under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for trades he made early in the pandemic. Burr has said all of his trades were based on news reports, not non-public information.

Recent polls have found that the public overwhelmingly supports banning lawmakers from making trades.

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