Sun This Week: Craig revives attempt at broad ethics reform

By: John Gessner

Declaring that Congress needs ethics reform to regain public trust, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Angie Craig has reintroduced a bill that would ban individual stock ownership for members of the House of Representatives and bar them from ever lobbying Congress after leaving office.

The HUMBLE Act (Halt Unchecked Member Benefits with Lobbying Elimination) would also bar former members from the House floor and other House facilities and prohibit members from using travel expenses for first-class airline tickets.

Craig, a second-term Democrat who lives in Eagan, reintroduced the bill last month after introducing it during her first term.

“I sort of threw the kitchen sink into everything I think is wrong with the U.S. Congress and Washington and said here are all the things we need to fix it if we want to help restore confidence in the institutions in Washington,” said Craig, who discussed the bill, Capitol security and COVID-19 relief in an interview this week.

“I don’t know if I can change it or not,” Craig said of the ethical lapses, “but I ran for Congress to try.”

Allegations of insider trading and suspicious stock dumping have been “front and center” recently, especially in the Georgia runoff elections that sent two Democrats to the U.S. Senate last month, Craig’s office said.

Georgia’s Republican incumbent senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, were accused of making stock trades last year in the weeks before markets fell on news of the coronavirus pandemic. The trades came after a private January briefing for senators on the growing crisis, according to media reports.

The Justice Department closed an inquiry into Perdue’s trades without filing charges. But his claim of “total” exoneration by the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee mischaracterizes the outcome of the investigations into his trades, according to the Poynter Institute’s Politifact.

The Justice Department also looked into stock trades by four other senators — Loeffler, Republicans James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Richard Burr of North Carolina, and Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California. The Justice Department closed its investigations of Loeffler, Inhofe and Feinstein without any action, but continued to investigate Burr, according to Politifact.

Craig accused the former Georgia senators of profiting off COVID-19.

“Literally, we had members of Congress last session in briefings telling them here’s what’s about to happen in a global health crisis, and they walked out of those briefings and started personally making money off what was about to happen,” Craig said. “They went on camera and downplayed COVID. It makes every member of Congress and Congress itself look bad when you have people who can do this.”

Craig, who held two vice president posts at Minnesota-based St. Jude Medical before being elected to Congress, said she sold her St. Jude stock when she ran for Congress the first time in 2016. Craig lost to Republican Jason Lewis and unseated him two years later.

“Mutual funds are fine,” Craig said. “Blind trusts are fine. But come on — individual stock ownership? We’ve seen too much abuse.”

As a former member of the House transportation and infrastructure committee, Craig said she had access to information about troubled airline maker Boeing she could have leveraged for profitable trades.

Insider trading is illegal in America and in Congress, both chambers of which passed the STOCK Act overwhelmingly in 2012 to curb insider trading by members. The law didn’t ban individual stock ownership.

“Not every member of Congress wants this opportunity taken away from them,” Craig said. “I’m going to be working across the aisle to try to convince my colleagues that eliminating even the appearance of wrongdoing and removing any temptation that lawmakers might have to profit off their positions in Congress is good for the institution.”

Craig, who had a 22-year business career, said she pledged when she first ran to not work as a lobbyist after leaving Congress.

‘High alert’

Members of Congress and the Capitol Police must maintain “high alert” after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, Craig said.

A week after the mob stormed the Capitol she said she witnessed several Republican colleagues harass police at the metal detectors that were installed at the entrance to the House chamber. The members then formed a line to go around the detectors into the chamber, she said.

“There are individuals in the GOP who are bringing a gun onto the House floor,” a violation of House rules, Craig said. “They are blatantly refusing to go through those metal detectors.”

She doesn’t think the practice of carrying guns on the floor is widespread.

“But there are individuals who now serve in the U.S. Congress who are aligned with what the FBI has warned us are far-right white nationalist terrorist organizations,” Craig said. “These are the people who are aligned with them who are bringing guns onto the House floor.”

She said she and many other House members have received a rising number of threats, and she has extra police patrol at her family’s home in Eagan.

“The security situation is real,” Craig said. “And it makes me sad.”

COVID-19 relief

Craig said her top two priorities for a new round of federal COVID-19 relief are speeding distribution of vaccines and helping suffering restaurants.

“I’m pushing for the RESTAURANTS Act, which is grant money,” Craig said.

She also said the definition of dependent should be expanded for purposes of distributing relief money to families. In the first two rounds, dependents were children 16 and younger.

The definition should also include 17- and 18-year-olds, college-age dependent children and adult disabled dependent children, she said.

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief proposal includes raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“My preference is that we do that independently,” Craig said. “But it’s not a perfect world. If we roll that particular bill into the COVID bill, I’m still going to support the COVID bill.”

She supports the federal wage hike after 10 years without one, adding that Minnesota’s minimum wage is already much higher than the federal government’s $7.25.

“I support it,” Craig said. “I think gradually phasing it in over five years is a prudent approach.”

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