Merkley calls out Wyden (just not by name)

Here's one that the Portland mainstream media probably won't touch. One of Oregon's U.S. senators, Jeff Merkley, has moved to the front of the chorus calling for a ban on trading in individual stocks by members of Congress and their spouses and dependents.

Merkley said he thinks it's time to ban all lawmakers from trading individual stocks altogether.

"It is a huge conflict of interest for someone to be trading in, say, pharmaceutical stocks at the same time as making policy for pharmaceutical companies," he said. He has introduced a bill that would require members to divest within six months of taking office and limit investments to mutual funds.

"It is not a popular topic among my colleagues," Merkley said dryly. He said without a change members keep themselves open to new allegations. "I can guarantee you that every year there'll be a scandal related to stock trading."

Merkley's position is especially interesting because one of the biggest stock players in the Congressional family is the wife of Merkley's "Oregon" colleague, Ron Wyden. Over the last year and a half, Nancy Bass Wyden has been placing huge bets on stocks, and making a killing. I've been writing about it since the first of this year.

As if to reinforce Merkley's point, one of the big issues currently before Congress are massive subsidies for the U.S. semiconductor industry. As I've reported here before, Bass Wyden has bought in the neighborhood of a million bucks' worth of stock in Nvidia, a California company that manufactures chips for gaming and blockchain. Their stock has soared in the time that Bass Wyden has owned it. Does the propsect of the government subsidies have anything to do with it?

Under current law, trades like hers are perfectly legal, although they have to be disclosed. The comments from Merkley yesterday came as several members of the House were accused of failing to report, as required, their wheeling and dealing in the stock market.

At least Wyden and his spouse are disclosing their behavior, but they haven't always done so in a timely way. If you check the senator's disclosure filings here, you'll see that he makes a habit of "amending" annual reports long after they are filed. He's apparently amended his 2015 statement five times, most recently in July of this year. His 2016 statement has been amended four times, and his 2019 statement once, again with the most recent amendments to those two coming just this past July.

I hope the supporters of ethics reform, such as Merkley and Senator Elizabeth Warren, get their way. What the Wydens and the others are doing is not right.


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