Indiana Law Journal

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2020

Publication Citation

96 Indiana Law Journal 313 (2020)


The trading of stocks and bonds by Members of Congress presents several risks that warrant public concern. One is the potential for policy distortion: lawmakers' personal investments may influence their official acts. Another is a special case of a general problem: that of insiders exploiting access to confidential information for personal gain. In each case, the current framework which is based on common law fiduciary principles is a poor fit. Surprisingly, rules from a related context have been overlooked.

Like lawmakers, public company insiders such as CEOs frequently trade securities while in possession of confidential information. Those insiders' trades are governed by federal securities regulations. Borrowing from these regulations, this Essay proposes a taxonomy of congressional securities trading (CST) and develops a comprehensive prescription to manage it. Specifically, Rule 10b5-1 plans (which disclose trades ex ante) and the section 16(b) short-swing profits rule of the Exchange Act (which disgorges illicit profits ex post) should be adapted to the congressional context. To further minimize conflicts of interest, lawmakers should also be restricted from owning any securities other than Treasuries and passive U.S. index funds. The Essay uses recent high-profile trading scandals to illustrate why the new bright-line rules proposed here are better suited to this problem than both the current system of regulating CST, which relies on common law standards, and prominent alternative reform proposals.