Oct 12, 2022

Mass Corruption: At Least 50 Federal Agencies Trade Stocks in Companies They Regulate

Between 2016 and 2021, thousands of federal officials and their family members traded stock in companies directly affected by their agencies, according to an investigation by The Wall Street Journal.
Mass Corruption: At Least 50 Federal Agencies Trade Stocks in Companies They Regulate

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Overall trends: The Treasury Department topped the list, with almost half of its employees investing in companies that lobbied the agency. Over a quarter of Environmental Protection Agency employees invested in oil and gas as the Trump administration’s policies favored the industry. The tech industry received the highest number of government investors: Over 1,800 officials owned stocks in Facebook, Google, Apple, or Amazon.

Trade with China: Over 400 officials in the State Department, the Department of Defense (DOD), and the White House traded with Chinese firms. In one alarming example, a DOD employee bought stock in a Chinese firm as the department was discussing whether to restrict it from American investors due to its alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party. After it chose not to, the employee sold the stock and made a profit.

How they get away with it: Most of these agents’ actions were legal or were dismissed based on several exemptions. The few rules that prohibit these conflicts of interest are enforced by ethics officials, who struggle to keep tabs on the financial activity of thousands of agents. If an ethics violation is reported, it goes to the Department of Justice, which often refuses to prosecute and is also involved in this type of trading.

Why it matters: By investing in entities they have power over, federal officials may weigh their governing decisions based on their own financial gain, compromising their integrity and priorities. The only major attempt at change is a proposed bill to ban stock trading for members of Congress, which has been stalled in the House. As many officials’ financial activities are confidential, what we know may only scratch the surface of the problem.

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