Pandemic Profiteering 2020: About US Senators’ Insider Trading & Chaotic Coronavirus Market
The American nonprofit organization ProPublica and US tabloid Daily Beast have reported that members of Congress sold equities after receiving briefings on the Dow Jones (DJIA) stock market dangers of COVID-19, much before the Trump administration announced it publicly. Two Senators, Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler that came in the red limelight of insider trading, have conveniently denied the allegations.
Crux of the Matter
Public Servants by Day, Perpetrators by Night? Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee downplayed the financial threat to the American citizens while he was hastily unloading between $628,000 and $1.72m of personal holdings. Next in the row, Senator Kelly Loeffler, wife of New York Stock Exchange’s chairman, sold a substantial amount of stock while buying shares in the teleworking company Citrix.
Public Servants’ ‘Insider Edge’ Insider trading/dealing occurs when someone who has a fiduciary duty to another person, or to an institution, corporation, partnership, firm, or entity, makes a trade of stock based on information that’s not available to the general public. This can directly lead to the former’s unfair gain and the latter’s unfortunate loss. Just like in the aforementioned cases wherein Members of Congress are legally barred from buying and selling based on the information they get in classified briefings.
This practice wasn’t considered illegal at the beginning of the 20th century and a Supreme Court ruling once referred to it as a “perk” of being an executive. A whistleblower, while in conversation with a popular US Daily, once claimed that members of Congress and higher-ups in government jobs were not only trading on inside information they gleaned from their regular assignments, but were also being fed tips from agencies like the Internal Revenue Service on corporate takeovers.
Nonetheless, after feeling the negative shift in public opinion regarding the decade-old deleveraging, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) became involved and the Securities Exchange Act was passed in 1934. Section 16 of this act requires that when an “insider“, defined as all officers, directors, and 10% owners, buys the corporation’s stock and sells it within six months, all of the profits must go to the company. Additionally, they ought to disclose the changes in the ownership of their positions, including all purchases and dispositions of shares. This aims to remove major trading activities when it’s impossible for insiders to personally gain from small moves.
STOCK v/s Private Moonlighting The STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act is a law that was passed during the Obama era, in 2012 and it clearly states that members of Congress and other government employees are not allowed to engage in insider trading based on information they learn through their jobs. Even the President, the Vice President, executive branch employees and judges were included in this law, making it a far stricter enforcement from the previous two trading laws.
However in 2013, it did get rid of a provision that the financial disclosures required by the law be posted online on official websites. Burr, who had opposed the bill passed for STOCK, said in his defence to this ongoing pandemic stock market wrongdoings that he relied solely on public news reports. He tried to offer alternate explanations for choosing to make money at a time when he should have been offering Americans the truth.
Can They ever be Tamed? SEC to the Rescue?
Make blind trusts mandatory for Members of Congress to end Congressional Insider Trading once and for all.
– Peter Schweizer, author of Profiles in Corruption: Abuse of Power by America’s Progressive Elite.
The first thing that pops in the mind now is that can these people be trusted to make laws neutrally, if they are financially invested in only the outcome of those laws? Is this simply an invitation for more corruption? After all, unethical behavior becomes especially more unacceptable in the midst of a deadly pandemic like COVID-19 that has infectedmore than 450,000 and killedmore than 20,000 to date.
SEC has officially announced the provision of conditional regulatory relief for certain publicly traded companies. The order, in an effort to address potential compliance issues, gives public companies an additional 45 days to file certain disclosure reports that would otherwise have been due between March 1 and April 30, 2020. Among other conditions, companies must provide a summary of why the relief is needed in their particular circumstances.
Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, co-directors of the SEC’s division of enforcement, have urged public companies to be mindful of their disclosure controls and procedures, insider-trading prohibitions, codes of ethics and Regulation FD. This step has been rightfully taken to prevent improper dissemination and use of material non-public information.
Additionally, whistleblowers, including those who reside outside of the United States, can qualify for financial awards under the Dodd-Frank Act’s whistleblower provisions. In case they qualify SEC’s confidential filing procedures, they can file potential fraud violations to the Commission anonymously via the TCR (“tip, complaint, and referral”) form. They are even eligible for a reward once the SEC issues sanctions based on the whistleblower’s information of $1 million or more. The office says it has paid over $300 million to the anonymous tippers in the past.
Stock market refers to the collection of markets and exchanges where regular activities of buying, selling, and issuance of shares of publicly-held companies take place. Such financial activities are conducted through institutionalized formal exchanges or over-the-counter (OTC) marketplaces which operate under a defined set of regulations. There can be multiple stock trading venues in a country or a region which allow transactions in stocks and other forms of securities. The leading stock exchanges in the U.S. include the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), Nasdaq, and the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE). These leading national exchanges, along with several other exchanges operating in the country, form the stock market of the U.S. More Info
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), is a stock market index that measures the stock performance of 30 large companies listed on stock exchanges in the United States. The value of the index is the sum of the price of one share of stock for each component company divided by a factor which changes whenever one of the component stocks has a stock split or stock dividend, so as to generate a consistent value for the index. Investing in the DJIA is possible via index funds as well as via derivatives such as option contracts and futures contracts. More Info