Back in the days of yore, I’m talking about the founding of the republic democracy that is the United States of America, the top minds didn’t want to serve forever in the federal government.
Take George Washington. He took office in April 1789 — insisting on being called simply “Mr. President,” none of this “His Excellency” or “His Highness” — and when his term end neared, he was set on returning to his plantation, Mount Vernon.
Martha Washington wanted him to retire (he was 57 when he took office, not a young man back then). But Thomas Jefferson and James Madison urged him to stay on as president, and Alexander Hamilton said Washington’s departure as president would be “deplored as the greatest evil” to the fledgling nation.
So Washington stayed aboard for the good of the country. He declared he’d serve one more term, then leave (setting the precedent for a two-term limit for president).
Federal lawmakers at the time also didn’t want to make government their career. They all had lives far away from the nation’s capital, but they knew that their service was required to make good on the promises they’d made, so they sucked it up and performed their duties.
But not for long — a term, maybe two, then back to their lives.
That’s all changed. Now, politicians get in and stay in. Look at Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. The 82-year-old is a career politician, serving in the House for 36 years (“Walk Like An Egyptian” was the No. 1 song when she first took office).
Why stay in office so long? Because you can make bank — serious bank.
Mrs. Pelosi and her husband, for instance, have made millions since she took office. Just last month, the couple sold more than $1.5 million in Alphabet stock. Then guess what happened? The Department of Justice announced an antitrust lawsuit against the tech giant earlier this month.
The Pelosis sold 30,000 shares of Alphabet, the parent company for Google and other firms, on Dec. 20, 21, and 28, the Daily Caller reported. The pair received between $1.5 million and $3 million for the total sale, according to a financial disclosure form Mrs. Pelosi filed on Jan. 12. The DOJ announced its lawsuit against Alphabet on Jan. 23.
Between 2007 and 2020, Mrs. Pelosi and her husband saw their stock portfolio’s worth soar by as much as $30 million. Paul Pelosi’s net worth is said to be more than $120 million, mostly due to his holdings in technology stocks.
Nancy and Paul Pelosi, he of the famed mugshot after his drunken driving arrest, just seem to have a knack for well-timed trades. The couple bought and sold millions in Nvidia stocks just before a bill passed that subsidized the American semiconductor industry with $280 billion. Huh. What a coincidence.
Here’s the problem: Lawmakers are often privy to inside information that could amount to inside trading. And that’s why they shouldn’t be able to buy and sell stocks while they’re in office. Like, no, duh.
Not surprisingly, the former speaker has long opposed legislation to ban stock trading for federal lawmakers. And she’s had lots of support; plenty of other members of Congress have become millionaires, even though they make just $180,000 a year nowadays.
A report this month from Business Insider found that 49 members of Congress and 182 senior-level congressional staffers had “violated the so-called STOCK Act, which requires public disclosure by themselves and family members within 45 days of sales or purchases of individual stocks, bonds and commodity futures.”
But guess what the penalty often is for violating the act put in place a decade ago to combat insider trading? $200. Just as often, a House or Senate ethics committee will just waive the fine, delivering little more than a weak slap on the wrist for the violation.
One Republican lawmaker has a solution, and he’s dubbed it the “PELOSI Act” — “Preventing Elected Leaders from Owning Securities and Investments.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, wants to ban lawmakers — and their spouses — from owning and trading stocks while holding office.
“For too long, politicians in Washington have taken advantage of the economic system they write the rules for, turning profits for themselves at the expense of the American people,” Mr. Hawley said in a statement.
“As members of Congress, both Senators and Representatives are tasked with providing oversight of the same companies they invest in, yet they continually buy and sell stocks, outperforming the market time and again,” he said.
“While Wall Street and Big Tech work hand-in-hand with elected officials to enrich each other, hardworking Americans pay the price,” the senator said.
So pass the PELOSI Act pronto. Next, let’s move on to term limits. That’s a no-brainer, too.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.
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