U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger’s TRUST in Congress Act, which bars members of Congress and their families from trading in stocks, is gaining momentum in Congress with strong bipartisan support and an evolving list of co-sponsors.
HR 336, also known as TRUST (Transparent Representation Upholding Service and Trust) in congressional law, requires all members of Congress and their spouses and dependent children to place certain assets in blind trusts, preventing them from committing crimes insiders. Spanberger, a Democrat who represents Virginia’s Seventh District, reintroduced the legislation in Congress in 2021 after introducing it a year earlier. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on House Administration, where it is awaiting next steps.
Her initial introduction of the measure in 2020 came after she had a discussion with Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), about the level of disgust she had about members of Congress buying stocks tied to pandemic resources at the beginning of the COVID -19 pandemic.
“We were expressing more than a level of disgust that all of this was happening,” she said. “But that the American people were like, ‘Of course they do that. During a pandemic, we worry about putting food on our table, not getting sick, not dying, or worrying about the school closures.’”
A POLITICO review from March 2020 showed lawmakers and their families and aides adjusted investment portfolios in January and February 2020 when members of government were debriefed on COVID before the public was alerted to how the virus could impact on their life. Some members sold their shares in airlines and cruise lines (including Rep. Susan Davis, D-California), while an aide to Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), bought shares in Clorox, Inc., before the stock market crash of 2020. .
Spanberger wanted to restore the confidence of Congress in the American people, hence the name of his legislation. Beyond preventing members of Congress and their families from being able to trade stocks, she also wanted to remove the possibility of the perception of it.
“Even the perception of impropriety erodes the trust people have in the entity or organization you work in,” she said. “Giving anyone the idea that a congressman is more focused on his financial holdings and is in that service degrades people’s trust in Congress.”
In one recent survey sent by Spanberger’s office, 93% of more than 3,200 responses were in favor of the legislation, with many citing in their responses that it would be a good thing to hold members of Congress accountable.
In addition to the citizens’ support for the bill, there is 53 Congress co-sponsorsboth Democrats and Republicans, who signed the bill.
Similar bills have also been tabled by both sidessomething Spanberger said helps the conversation move forward.
“The one thing that is a top priority for me is that spouses need to be included,” she said, referring to the single part of her bill, which includes spouse and dependent children to place their assets in a blind trust.
While citizens and other members of Congress support the legislation, outside political organizations have also encouraged the bill and the transparency it includes.
“The TRUST in Congress Act ensures that members of Congress cannot leverage their position to build or influence their own financial portfolios,” said Jessica Jones Capparell, director of government affairs for the League of Women Voters. “The measure contained in this law will increase government accountability and provide transparency so that the American people know that their representatives are working for their interests.”
As this bill attracted more attention, there was also some hesitation from members of Congress. Some of Spanberger’s colleagues worried that signing the bill would make it seem like everyone in Congress was corrupt in one way or another, but she said it was quite the opposite.
“This is our chance to effectively demonstrate that we are not corrupt and that we are focused on our constituents,” she said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) was critical of the legislation at first, but recently changed her stance on it somewhat.
In December 2021, Pelosi has publicly opposed the idea of banning members of Congress from owning stock in companies at a press conference, citing that the United States is a “free market economy and that it [members of Congress] should be able to participate.
Pelosi changed her stance on the matter during her press conference the week of Jan. 20., saying she “don’t believe in it, but if the members want to do it, I’m okay with it.” Even with his nod of support, there are still concerns raised that other members of Congress have also voiced.
Unlike members of Congress who don’t believe the bill is necessary – and who think they should be allowed to negotiate however they wish – Spanberger thinks it is necessary to ensure there is no has no insider trading problems.
“If you want to be a day-trader, don’t be in Congress,” she said.
Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs for Common Cause, raised concerns that the bill could deter people from wanting to run for office.
“We don’t want legislation to this effect to have unintended consequences,” he said. “Discourage candidates of modest means from being able to stand for election. . . we don’t want to make it harder for people of modest means to run for office.
Scherb also discussed extending the legislation to members of government beyond Congress.
“Any legislation should apply not only to Congress, but also to the judiciary,” he said.
A detailed report published by the Wall Street Journal in 2021 found that more than 130 judges ruled on cases in which they had done business or had a financial interest. Scherb cited this article as a reason for this legislation to be applied in a whole-of-government approach.
Finally, she referenced the misconception that this bill could impact the 401ks plan, particularly with respect to spouses included in the bill. Spanberger said the purpose of the bill was to prevent members of Congress from taking advantage of information to make money.
“It’s not about any particular ideology,” she said. “It’s about what members of Congress should do in relation to their constituents.
“It’s a bill that really resonates with people and seems very simple to many Americans.”