US Lawmakers Bought and Sold Over $350 Million Worth of Stocks in 2021
US Lawmakers Bought and Sold Over $350 Million Worth of Stocks in 2021

By Tom Ozimek

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill had a busy 2021 not just crafting legislation but also in terms of personal financial transactions, with members of Congress buying and selling an estimated $355 million worth of stocks.

U.S. representatives and senators or their immediate family members bought around $180 million and sold around $175 million worth of company shares in 2021, according to stock transaction disclosure data provided by Capitol Trades and analyzed by MarketWatch.

All top ten spots in terms of total amount transacted—so the sum total of both purchases and sales—were by House representatives, with the first senator on the list in 12th place.

The most active politician by overall dollar value—so the sum total of both purchases and sales—was Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), whose disclosures show around $35 million in stock sales and $31 million in stock buys, for a total of some $66 million transacted.

McCaul was followed by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), with a total transacted volume of around $53 million, including some $19 million in sales and $34 million in purchases.

Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) also disclosed around $53 million worth of stock transactions, including around $26.5 million each of buys and sells.

The top senator in trade dollar value was Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), whose disclosures show around $57,000 in stock buys and just over $4 million in sales.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose trading activity has attracted an online following, was in eighth spot, with $12 million total dollar volume in stock trades.

Trading stocks by members of Congress has been the subject of scrutiny and criticism over the years, prompting questions about whether lawmakers leveraged access to privileged information to get an edge on markets.

A 2010 study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that Senate members trading stocks between 1993 and 1998 outperformed the market by around 12 percent. A separate study (pdf) by a researcher at West Virginia University concluded that “politicians, similar to corporate insiders, trade on information containing macroeconomic components.”

In 2012, Congress passed a law, known as the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or STOCK Act, to crack down on insider trading. But many lawmakers have not fully complied with the law, according to the findings of a Business Insider investigative reporting project called “Conflicted Congress,” which found that 54 members of Congress failed to properly report their trades as required by the STOCK Act. A number of them cited clerical errors, mistakes made by accountants, or not being aware of the regulations, according to Business Insider.

The financial ethics of Congress have also come under renewed pressure lately, with over two dozen House members from both sides of the aisle calling for a ban on members of Congress owning or trading stocks while in office. In a Jan. 24 open letter (pdf), 27 House members argued that the STOCK Act lacks teeth to be effective and that more stringent laws should be in place to curb politicians “using congressional knowledge to their advantage in stock trading.”

“It’s clear the current rules are not working,” the lawmakers wrote, citing several high-profile cases of senators making significant stock sales after receiving closed briefings on the COVID-19 outbreak in the early days of the pandemic in 2020, before the general public had understood its implications for markets.

Members of Congress were elected to “serve our country, not turn a quick a buck,” they wrote, arguing that a law barring lawmakers from owning or trading stocks while in office would help restore public trust.

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