When Representative Tom Suozzi (D-NY) came before congressional investigators earlier this year to explain why he failed to disclose hundreds of stock transactions in a timely manner, the Long Island congressman currently running for governor had quite the explanation.
Suozzi actually told the researchers he was too busy to handle the “formality” of reporting hundreds of transactions — and blamed the ethics bureau for not sending constant reminders or giving a dedicated staff committed was in compliance.
“Honestly, we have a lot to do in Congress. I have many other things going on. And it just isn’t – ethics is a big priority for me. But… the… some formalities are not necessarily something I make a priority,” the congressman said, according to a transcript of the statement.
Plus, he hired someone else to trade stock for him, so he didn’t believe he had to report every time he bought and sold shares of dozens of companies.
“I had the impression that because I [broker-directed] bills they traded as they saw fit that my requirement was to complete an annual disclosure. And I filled out an annual disclosure every year,” he told congressional researchers this year.
In his statement, Suozzi told investigators that he left the trading to an independent stockbroker, who somehow exempted him from the requirement to show when he bought or sold shares.
For example, when Suozzi’s stockbroker bought more than $50,000 worth of Tesla stock in March 2021 — and then the broker sold it the following month, just as fellow congressmen began raising concerns about the autopilot feature of the car company — Suozzi was obliged to information within 45 days. He didn’t.
Suozzi was one of three congressmen fired last week when the House Ethics Committee — infamous for taking no action on all but the most egregious of violations — labeled their failure to report stock transactions as harmless mistakes.
In a statement on July 29, the bipartisan ethics committee officially stated that “there was no clear evidence that the errors and omissions … were deliberate or intentional, and that members were generally unclear about the requirements.”
When it actually released investigative papers three days later, it became clear that Suozzi remained defiant as he faced his mistakes earlier this year – and offered some fresh defenses.
During a virtual meeting with House ethics attorneys on Jan. 12, attorney Omar Ashmawy asked the congressman if changes could be made to help politicians file their disclosures when they should.
Suozzi suggested that each member of Congress should have their own ethics advisor.
“Well, I think, you know, there’s… [sic] only 435 members of Congress,” Suozzi replied. “And so I think every member of Congress should have someone from the Ethics Office responsible for that member. So as if everyone has their staff member. And that employee, you know, should be responsible for saying, ‘Hey, you know, you didn’t take your class, you didn’t file your reports, you didn’t do this, you didn’t do that. ‘”
That didn’t sit well with former home ethics attorney Kedric Payne of the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog nonprofit that first called Suozzi for its utter lack of stock trading. transparency in five years.
“His explanation just doesn’t pass the smell test. This is the simplest rule. Report your stock trades,” Payne told The Daily Beast.
Current rules require every politician in Congress — and some employees — to report any stock trade worth more than $1,000 within 45 days. But Suozzi, like so many others in Congress, completely ignored the rules.
It wasn’t until September 22, 2021, when the Campaign Legal Center called him — as well as six other members of Congress — that Suozzi noticed. The next day, he filed a “periodic transaction report,” a massive 50-page bookkeeping of more than 400 stock transactions dating back to his very first week in Congress four years earlier.
“See how fast he could do it?” asked Payne. “He didn’t have time to sign up, but he’s making it a priority to trade that many stocks.”
The data shows that dozens of different types of stock are constantly being bought and sold, from automakers like Ford and General Motors to chipmakers like AMD and NVIDIA.
Suozzi’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
In his statement with investigators, the congressman insisted he thought it was enough to file year-end reports that reflect his investment portfolio. While those year-end reports show what stocks a politician generally owns, they don’t show the many purchases and sales that happen throughout the year, nor do they always indicate when a member bought or sold stock.
The congresswoman was publicly summoned by the Campaign Legal Center after a thorough search by a researcher there, Sophia Gonsalves-Brown, who surveyed every member of Congress and compared year-over-year disclosures to see when some stock seemed to disappear. The nonprofit then filed a formal complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics, which anyone can do by filling out a form.
Last week, however, that complaint disappeared when the House Ethics Committee passed formal reprimands to Suozzi and two others who failed to report on time: Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX) and Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-NY).
The Daily Beast tried to find out what excuses they had for not filing reports, but explanations were not available to either congressman. According to committee staff, Congresswoman Fallon chose not to cooperate, so no impeachment. Meanwhile, any official interview with Jacobs is not publicly available because the ethics committee, which is separate from the committee and led by former congressman Mike Barnes, has been at a standstill over whether or not to continue the investigation. The House of Representatives is not subject to public records laws.
Fallon and Jacobs’ congressional offices have not responded to requests for comment.
These politicians’ STOCK ACT violations come at a decisive moment when the law is being investigated for not going far enough to ensure that politicians do not abuse their position of power to personally enrich themselves with the sensitive information they receive as members of the Congres.
sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) has called for a complete ban on members of Congress from trading stocks. And others have joined the fight to prevent politicians from taking personal advantage, especially since so many get away with it. For example, the Justice Department eventually dropped its investigation into how Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) sold up to $1.7 million in stock after personally assuring the American public that the country was willing to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the moment there are several House and Senate bills that aim to prohibit politicians from trading stocks in one way or another. But none have gotten a vote, though Democrats are quietly trying to force Chair Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to move forward with a consensus bill.
However, the lack of action has led to The New York Times editorial board to say that “members of Congress should never trade stocks”, and Insider has launched its own tool called “Conflicted Congress” to track down the lack of transparency.
Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee is experiencing some turmoil. The leading Republican, Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN), died Wednesday in a two-car accident in her home state.