Conventional wisdom in personal finance is that working stiffs with a 401k plan should stay away from individual stocks and just buy mutual funds that track broad market indexes like the Standard & Poor’s 500.
Unless you’re a hedge fund manager, or you have money to burn, that’s your best bet, most financial planners say. Individual companies can crater just as often as they soar, and the risk is just too great for nonprofessionals.
Many members of Congress ignore that advice, even if they handle legislation that affects companies’ fortunes. That causes both conflicts of interest, and the appearance of conflict. Neither is good.
After a few high-profile cases of legislators making well-timed trades based on government information about COVID-19 (we’re looking at you, Richard Burr), The New York Times this week gave congressional trading the full data-dive treatment, examining trades for every member between 2019 to 2021.
They found 97 legislators out of 535 with dicey deals done by themselves or by family members, including two of Oregon’s longest-serving Democratic leaders: U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer.
Wyden made the list because his wife bought and sold shares of Exxon Mobil and Shell while he sat on committees that handled energy issues, the Times said. Wyden also made trades in companies run by executives who testified before the Senate Finance Committee while Wyden was the top Democrat on the committee, the Times said.
A spokesman for Wyden told the Times that he and his wife keep their finances separate.
Blumenauer made the list because of trades by his wife, too, the Times said. She traded shares of CVS Health and UnitedHealth Group, both of which offer Medicare Advantage plans. Blumenauer sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, which has authority over Medicare, the Times reported.
Blumenauer himself purchased stock in defense company Raytheon on Feb. 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, the Times said. He sold the shares on March 14, the Times said. Among other weaponry, Raytheon makes the Tomahawk cruise missile.
The trade was the result of a “miscommunication,” Blumenauer’s office said.
”The congressman has long believed that members of Congress should not trade individual stocks,” a Blumenauer spokesperson told the Times. “Due to a miscommunication, his financial advisers purchased some stock on his behalf. When this was reported to him, he immediately ordered it sold (at a loss) and gave unequivocal direction that he should not hold any individual stock.”
Recent filings show that Blumenauer’s wife still owns stock, the Times said.