Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) has introduced a bill aimed at barring members of Congress from profiting directly off of war and military campaigns as a regional war threatens to break out in the Middle East, with the U.S. and other Western nations bombing and seeking to destabilize a number of countries in the region.
Tlaib’s bill would ban members of Congress, their spouses and dependent children from trading and owning stocks in defense contractors. The aim, she says, is for lawmakers to make decisions on subjects with dire consequences — like war and mass slaughter — without being motivated by their own profits.
Congressional trading in the military and defense industry rose in 2023, according to Capitol Trades, with Israel’s genocide in Gaza and the continued war on Ukraine. In all, Capitol Trades recorded 96 transactions related to defense by members of Congress last year as they negotiated foreign military funding bills and passed a record-high military budget of $886 billion, about half of which goes toward defense contractors. In years past, other reports have found that there are dozens of lawmakers in Congress who trade such stocks and sit on committees that are directly tasked with overseeing military or defense industry policy.
“My colleagues continue to funnel billions of American tax dollars to the very same defense contractors that many of them are invested in and taking campaign donations from,” Tlaib said in a statement. “It is shameful that some of my colleagues are profiting financially when they vote to support wars and weapons manufacturing. Members of Congress should not be able to use their positions of power to get rich from defense contractors while voting to pass more funding to bomb innocent civilians.”
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri) is a cosponsor of the bill. It has also been endorsed by roughly two dozen progressive and advocacy organizations, including 350.org and Public Citizen, as well as a number of groups currently organizing against Israel’s razing of Gaza like Jewish Voice for Peace Action, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“Elected officials owning defense contractor stocks while also controlling annual budget allocations is the opposite of a virtuous circle. It’s an astonishing testament to the deep power of the military-industrial-Congressional complex that owning defense contractor stock while in office hasn’t yet been banned,” said Savannah Wooten, coordinator for Public Citizen’s People Over Pentagon campaign, who called the legislation “long overdue.”
As long as lawmakers are allowed to own and trade stocks, they stand to profit from the industries they are tasked with regulating and overseeing — and policies regarding war and militarism are no exception, with stocks in the defense industry and, often, fossil fuel companies gaining value as a result of new military incursions. Analyses have shown that several lawmakers have profited directly from Israel’s massacre in Gaza.
Lawmakers benefit in other ways from supporting military actions, especially those carried out by Israel; pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is reportedly slated to spend at least $100 million in the 2024 primaries just on trying to unseat or bar progressive lawmakers from Congress who are opposed to Israel’s genocide and apartheid. AIPAC has already poured tens of millions of dollars into Congress in recent years, and this lobbying pays off handsomely, with the vast majority of Congress staunchly siding with Israel no matter the horror it inflicts on Palestinians.
Some lawmakers have been campaigning in recent years for members of Congress and other prominent members of the federal government to be barred from trading stocks altogether — a proposal that is extremely popular among the public. However, certain lawmakers in leadership positions, like former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), have refused to pass such legislation, perhaps because their personal finances would be affected.
Pelosi, one of the wealthiest people in Congress, is a prominent example, with entire stock trading strategies built upon her and her husbands’ stock trades. This year, her portfolio’s gains have hit a new all-time high, according to Unusual Whales, having hit a return of 84 percent over last year.
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