In an analysis conducted by The New York Times in 2022, it was revealed that from 2019 to 2021, 183 Senators and Representatives in the U.S. Congress reported trading stocks or other financial assets by themselves or their family members. According to the conducted research, 97 lawmakers served on Congressional committees that could have potentially provided them with insider information about the companies in which they traded and which were influenced by their work.
Several examples of such political trades were highlighted in the report by NYT. One was of Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who regularly traded contracts tied to cattle prices while serving on the agriculture committee and the second was of Representative Bob Gibbs of Ohio, who purchased shares of AbbVie Inc (ABBV:US), a pharmaceutical company under investigation by the House Oversight Committee. The analysis also revealed that 44 out of the 50 most active members of Congress in the markets traded securities in companies related to their committee assignments.
While lawmakers defended these transactions as bona fide, the probability of conflicts of interest drew criticism. The analysis identified that over 3,700 trades potentially posed conflicts between lawmakers' public responsibilities and private finances. Although lawmakers are subject to laws against insider trading, their access to information through legislative work, briefings, and meetings can create ethical dilemmas. While the exact financial benefits gained from privileged trading positions are unclear, a study by Dartmouth College found that stocks traded by members of Congress did not outperform the market average.
Nevertheless, concerns about potential insider trading persist. The analysis highlighted troubling instances in recent years, including Senator Richard M. Burr's investigation for selling stocks after a private briefing on the potential harms of the coronavirus.
Efforts were been made in Congress to tighten the rules surrounding stock trading by members. Representative Chip Roy, a Texas Republican co-sponsored a bill that would require members to put their financial assets in a blind trust managed by an outside adviser. However, whether such legislation will pass and be signed into law still remains to be witnessed.
The NYT researchers used the 2IQ's Capitol Trades database, compiled from congressional trading disclosures to conduct the analysis. While some transactions may be routine or unrelated to legislative influence, the analysis revealed instances where legislative work and investment decisions overlapped, creating potential conflicts. The analysis also raised questions about the trading activities of lawmakers' immediate family members, who may have independent wealth and careers.
The issue of stock trading by lawmakers has prompted calls for stricter regulations. A bill passed by Congress in 2022 addressed disclosure requirements but more comprehensive legislation was being developed. Some lawmakers took steps to address potential conflicts, such as selling their individual stock investments or placing assets in a blind trust.
Overall, the analysis conducted by The New York Times sheds light on the extent of potential conflicts of interest arising from stock trading by lawyers. The findings have intensified calls for stricter regulations and heightened public scrutiny of lawmakers' financial activities.