Congress can't wean itself off tech stocks
Hello and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today we look at the latest effort to ban Congress from trading stocks and what it means for public perception of antitrust efforts. Also, California passed a wage transparency bill that could impact your company (and your future salary) and Meta sussed out the “largest and most complex” Russian disinformation campaign to date.
Conflicts of interest
Admitting you have a problem is the first step in recovery, or so the saying goes. When it comes to placing limits on stock trading by its members, Congress has been stuck on that first step for decades now. That’s not to say there hasn’t been some tangential progress: After Watergate, Congress passed the 1978 Ethics in Government Act, which included financial disclosure rules that reveal the scale of the problem today. And in 2012, Congress passed the Stock Act that prohibited lawmakers from using non-public information to inform their stock-trading activity — once again, stopping short of an outright ban.
Last night, House Democrats introduced a long-awaited bill that would ban stock trading. The Combatting Financial Conflicts of Interest in Government Act would instead force members of Congress to put their assets in a qualified trust, such as a mutual fund or ETF. The ban also extends to members’ spouses and dependent children.
The bill is another first step on the road to nowhere. Democrats aren’t united in support of the bill — with key figures including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer coming out against it — and Republicans are largely opposed since they had limited input in drafting it, per Punchbowl News. Altogether, that means the bill is unlikely to go to a House floor vote (as promised by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi), and even that would probably still be easier than passing it through the Senate. If Democrats lose seats during midterms, everything becomes even harder. This is all to say: Don’t expect the trading ban anytime soon.
The bill responds to real public outrage over a real problem. Nearly 1 in 5 members of the 2019-2021 Congress purchased or sold a financial asset that posed a clear conflict of interest with their political work, according to a recent New York Times analysis. The habit transcends political parties, though the media and public tend to focus on the trading activity of Paul Pelosi, husband of the speaker.
- Tech stocks were among the most popular stocks owned by Congress, with Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon representing four of the five most popular stocks members held in 2020.
- The majority of the American public (63%) supports a Congress stock trading ban, according to a January 2022 poll from Morning Consult and POLITICO.
That public outrage doesn’t inspire widespread faith in Congress to regulate Big Tech. If stock holdings are a measure of confidence in the future of a company, then dozens of members of Congress either don’t think meaningful antitrust legislation will pass, or they think something will pass that won’t impact Big Tech valuations.
A trading ban would hardly remove Big Tech’s influence over Congress. That influence comes in all shapes and sizes — from the predictable (campaign donations) to the familial (the children of at least 17 members have worked for Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, or Meta). Stock trading still presents a conflict of interest, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Chances are, Congress already knew that, which places its latest legislative effort somewhere on the spectrum between quixotic and deeply cynical.
Small tweaks to antitrust law that were supposed to be easy to pass are instead in trouble in the House thanks to opposition from California Democrats and most Republicans. The hurdles show how difficult it might be to get anything larger passed — like, oh, say the ban on tech self-preferencing, which by the way is also down to its do-or-die moment this year.
President Joe Biden is getting ready to sign an order to help repair the turbulently uncertain situation around data flows to Europe, according to POLITICO. The action will put in place new protections on national security officials’ access to both Americans’ and Europeans’ data in an effort to convince the EU to look favorably on data transfers. Don’t expect the privacy campaigners who took down the prior two U.S. efforts as inconsistent with Euro data-protection requirements to get too excited, though.
Oracle reached a $23 million settlement with the SEC over allegations that three company subsidiaries “created and used slush funds to bribe foreign officials in return for business between 2016 and 2019.” The charges focused on Turkey, the UAE, and India. Oracle had paid a $2 million fine in 2012 over more or less the same issue in India.
Microsoft is pledging to support policies to expand and decarbonize the electric grid, foster carbon removal, and allow climate aid for green energy use in the Global South. The company has sought to portray itself as a climate leader, though it’s had trouble meeting its early goals and continues to work on other issues in Washington with lawmakers and trade groups standing in the way of climate progress.
In the states
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill requiring most businesses to disclose pay ranges in job postings. The measure will also mandate that businesses with more than 100 employees report average pay rates for jobs across a variety of demographics.
A MESSAGE FROM QUALCOMM
Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.
In the courts
Elon Musk is griping once again about his settlement with the SEC, which requires him to get prior approval for certain kinds of tweets after the infamous “funding secured” missive. Musk is appealing a ruling that said the deal didn’t violate the First Amendment amid an investigation into whether he had complied with the requirements.
Around the world
Russia spoofed major international news outlets to smear Ukraine in what Meta called the country’s “largest and most complex” influence operation since Putin’s war began. The company said it took down a network pushing meticulous impersonations of media sites and even particular authors, which were aimed at European audiences. Meta also said it took down a Chinese operation attempting to stoke U.S. division over issues like gun rights and abortion.
Apple also removed the apps connected to Russia’s major social networking sites in response to U.K. sanctions.
The European Commission is looking at making it dramatically easier for users to sue the “makers of drones, robots and other products equipped with” AI, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, industry groups are pushing back on a separate EU proposal to bring more regulation to almost all AI, instead of focusing on high-risk systems.
In lieu of our usual lighthearted kicker, we just want to wish everyone in Florida and in the path of Hurricane Ian a safe next couple of days while you go through this storm. Protocol Policy is definitely rooting for you.
A MESSAGE FROM QUALCOMM
If we want our nation’s rich history of innovation to continue, experts say, we must create an IP protection ecosystem that helps ensure that tech innovation will thrive.
Thanks for reading. See you Friday.