Sasse Re-Introduces Bill to Ban Lawmakers From Trading Stocks, Becoming Paid Lobbyists

  • Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska reintroduced a bill containing several ethics reforms.
  • The bill bans lawmakers from trading stocks, as well as becoming paid lobbyists after retirement.
  • Sasse says his bill will “hack off a whole bunch of Republicans and Democrats” but “it’s time to get everyone’s goat.”

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska is re-introducing a sweeping ethics reform package that includes banning members of Congress from trading individual stocks.

Sasse’s “Ethics Reform Act,” a re-packaging of a previous set of bills that the Nebraska Republican first put forward in 2018, would also ban lawmakers from acting as paid lobbyists after leaving Congress. The package also targets the executive branch, with a prohibition on immediate family members of cabinet members, the president, and vice president from soliciting donations from sources and a requirement that both the president and vice president publicly disclose their tax returns.

In contrast to Sasse’s previous set of proposals, the bill would also ban foreign nationals from contributing to ballot measure campaigns, a strange loophole in campaign finance law that was opened up by a Federal Election Commission ruling last year. Foreign nationals are otherwise prohibited from spending on American elections, but the commission determined that ballot measures technically don’t count as elections under current law.

“People hate politics, and politicians have worked hard to earn that hate,” Sasse said in a statement. “If Congress wants to rebuild some public trust, we ought to put some pretty simple rules on Washington.”

Sasse’s bills come amid broader public scrutiny of lawmakers’ stock trading habits, as well as a recognition that existing laws to prevent insider trading, particularly the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act may be insufficient.

Lawmakers often have access to privileged information unavailable to the rest of the public, and can potentially move markets with their decisions. And recent polling shows that anywhere between 67% and 76% of the public supports banning lawmakers from trading stocks.

“This is going to hack off a whole bunch of Republicans and Democrats but, frankly, doing it in one fell swoop is the only way to do it – it’s time to get everyone’s goat,” Sasse said in a statement.

Sasse’s stock trading ban would not, however, apply to spouses, which some have identified as a potential “loophole” in any potential reforms, given that spouses presumably discuss personal finances with one another.

Insider’s “Conflicted Congress” investigation found that at least 54 members of Congress and 182 senior congressional staffers have violated the STOCK Act by filing to comply with the disclosure measures, along with documenting several instances where members’ stock ownership creates potential conflicts of interest.

While some lawmakers have been pushing for a stock trading ban since a spate of pandemic-related stock trading scandals in 2020, several others have introduced new proposals to ban the practice just in the last month, including Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.

After initially opposing a stock trading ban, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed the Committee on House Administration to consider imposing higher penalties for STOCK act reversed violations, and she has since since her position on the issue.

“If members want to do that, I’m okay with that,” Pelosi said recently, referring to a stock trading ban.

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