As the names of the competing Senate bills suggest, the operative word for reformers is “ban”—the very verb that should have been applied from the get-go to the practice of lawmakers using the scads of insider information at their disposal to make fast money. Both the Ossoff-Kelly and the Hawley bills would be a massive improvement on the STOCK Act. That law essentially requires lawmakers to police themselves, which largely accounts for why it has failed. You don’t have to take my word for it: As one of the law’s creators, Tyler Gellasch, explained to Politico in March 2020, it “didn’t go far enough.”
Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics who is now a senior fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, has endorsed the Ossoff-Kelly bill over Hawley’s. Among its superior virtues, Shaub cites the former measure’s more robust commitment to public transparency, stronger penalties for noncompliance, and fewer procedural hurdles that might allow scofflaws to dodge responsibility: The Ossoff-Kelly bill, Shaub tweeted, “says the ethics committee ‘shall’ impose a penalty on noncompliant members,” while Hawley’s “says the ethics committee ‘may’ impose a penalty” for such infractions. “That committee hasn’t imposed any penalty on anyone in over a decade,” Shaub notes.
Regardless of whether you prefer one or the other, the big question is whether either of them can pass both houses of Congress and make its way to Joe Biden’s desk. And the answer is: of course not, because of the aforementioned filibuster-enabled dysfunction that currently grips the legislative branch. Sorry for the bad news!
But if either bill comes to the floor, it would still force the bad guys to take a tough vote, and reveal themselves to be enemies of this commonsense reform. Voters should have the opportunity to identify lawmakers who oppose bans on stock trading and find alternatives to send to Washington in their stead. Maybe it’s possible to elect more lawmakers from outside the stock-owning class. Regardless, the sooner we start forcing people to choose between being a stock market investor and being a public servant, the sooner we’ll have a better class of both.