Watchdog groups have long been barking for ethics changes on Capitol Hill. Rightly so.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is taking up the cause. Again.
She is relaunching a bill designed to prevent lawmakers from making individual stock trades while working on the taxpayer dime.
The Justice Department is tasked with oversight of any allegations involving share sales that are suspected to have resulted from inside information that lawmakers get in the course of fulfilling their public duties. The bar is high for criminal charges, as it should be. Everyone, including our elected officials, is entitled to due process. While many investigations may be launched by the Justice Department, few will end in prosecution.
The logical recourse is to avoid not just a real conflict, but even a perceived conflict. That can be done by restricting our federal leaders from trading stocks while they’re still in office. It’s not too big an ask. At stake is the credibility of our government, which arguably can’t get any shorter in supply these days.
Warren is not only looking for a ban on stock trading. That’s just part of her anti-corruption proposal, one she was pushing during her recent campaign for president. While she is using her influence in the Senate, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., has introduced a companion bill in the House. They are seeking a lifetime ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and a legal block on lobbyists fundraising for political candidates. These additional measures may be too utopian to stand a chance of passage.
The best move — the first move — is to narrow the focus of the Warren/Jayapal Anti-corruption and Public Integrity Act: get on the books, once and for all, a clear ban that will forestall even the temptation or suspicion of lawmakers using private information gleaned from congressional briefings for their self-interest in playing the stock market. The way things stand, temptation to do wrong is too great and the optics are just plain bad.