Government ethics watchdogs reacted angrily Thursday after U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley said a bill to ban members of Congress from trading stocks would be shelved until after November’s midterm elections.
“This is a product of not having enough new blood at the top.”
Merkley—an Oregon Democrat who spearheaded the proposed legislation and who just Wednesday said that “we need to get it done”—told Insider on Thursday that he is “looking forward to getting this across the finish line, but it’s not going to happen before the election.”
“I feel like we’ve made very large strides towards a consensus bill,” he added. “But there are a whole lot of other bills and judicial nominations lined up for the balance of the few days we have left here.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a strong proponent of the ban, told Insider‘s Bryan Metzger Thursday that her colleagues’ punt “further erodes the credibility of this body.”
The advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) tweeted that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) “promised to prioritize bringing a congressional stock trading ban to the floor before the election.”
“Today’s news that the Senate will not take up a bill until after the election is deeply disappointing,” CREW added. “But it’s not the end of the fight.”
Danielle Brian, executive director at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO)—which called the delay “absolutely unacceptable”—tweeted, “Here’s a perfect example of why it’s important to focus on what elected officials do between elections.”
“It’s not good enough that they talk a good game,” she added. “When in power, they also need to do the right thing.”
Merkley is part of a working group launched by Schumer in February to draft a consensus bill that stood a chance of passing the evenly divided upper chamber.
Walter Shaub, POGO’s senior ethics fellow, told Insider that “I’m not surprised to hear this is Sen. Merkley’s position. He took control of the working group and slow-walked this thing for 223 days. It’s a tragic lost opportunity and a shameful failure.”
In a thread on Twitter, Shaub railed that he has “had it with legislators who either won’t or can’t pass the most obvious ethical reforms in a time of crisis, as our institutions crumble to dust, after we barely survived four years of the most corrupt president in history, and public trust in government disintegrates.”
Progressives have long argued that the 2012 STOCK Act—the current law that allows members of Congress to buy and sell stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments as long as they refrain from insider trading and abide by disclosure rules—is fraught with loopholes and is frequently violated.
A running Insider investigation counts 72 members of Congress who have violated the STOCK Act in recent years. A New York Times investigation published earlier this week revealed that nearly 100 U.S. lawmakers reported trades in companies influenced by their committees.
Merkley’s announcement came the day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that lawmakers in the lower chamber may vote on a version of the trading ban later this month. Pelosi has come under fire after revelations her husband traded as much as $81 million worth of assets between 2019 and 2021, including in numerous companies subject to congressional scrutiny.
“Watch for the House version of the congressional stock ban to be riddled with loopholes,” Shaub predicted on Twitter. “I pledge to walk you through each and every one of them once they FINALLY release the text of this mysterious bill.”
Another bipartisan measure introduced in February by Warren and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) along with Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) would, if passed, ban U.S. lawmakers and their spouses from owning or trading stocks.
“It is the toughest bill that has been proposed in Congress,” Warren said on MSNBC Thursday. “No buying, no selling, no owning stocks, period… for members or members’ spouses.”