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Florida should consider banning state lawmakers from trading stocks, says gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist

Feb 10, 2022, 01:09 IST
Business Insider
Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat and candidate for governor of Florida, said the Florida legislature should take cues from Congress when it comes to stock trading.Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Crist is a Democratic congressman from Florida who is running for governor.
  • He agrees with banning members of Congress from trading individual stocks.
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SOUTH MIAMI, Florida — Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, a candidate for governor vying to unseat Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, said Florida should consider a stock trading ban for the state's legislature.

"If Congress can do it, I think Florida officials can do it too," Crist told Insider at a private residence where he was unveiling his plan to expand solar energy in Florida.

Crist's comments come as Congress is making significant moves to either limit or ban members from trading individual stocks. Every top congressional leader in Washington has now indicated they're open to new restrictions at a time when congressional stock trading is tremendously unpopular with voters.

The issue has become one of the most talked-about ethics reforms on Capitol Hill after Insider released "Conflicted Congress," a 5-month investigation which found that dozens of lawmakers and at least 182 senior congressional staffers had failed to comply with a law that requires them to file timely disclosures of their personal stock trades. Dozens of others have engaged in various trades that could conflict with their public duties.

Crist does not trade individual stocks, according to his annual federal disclosure filed with the Clerk of the House.

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One of his Democratic opponents for Florida's Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, is mired in a state ethics inquiry that says she failed to properly disclose income from lobbying in 2017 and 2018.

Fried vowed to fight the complaint and said the investigation was politically motivated by Republicans.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a joint session of a legislative session, Tuesday, January 11, 2022, in Tallahassee, Florida.Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo

Florida hasn't taken on stock ban

A couple of ethics bills have been introduced in the Florida legislature this session, but they wouldn't beef up disclosure requirements for the legislature, and none propose a stock trading ban.

Florida legislators are required to publicly disclose their personal stock trades except in a document filed annually, which doesn't list every trade they may have made over the course of a year. In Congress, lawmakers must disclose any stock trade within 30- to 45-days of a trade, in addition to filing annual personal financial disclosures.

"The issue of members of Congress trading stocks has been widely discussed, but at the state level not so much," said Virginia Hamrick, staff attorney at the Florida First Amendment Foundation. "It seems like there would be a similar response or a mirrored response."

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Crist told Insider that Florida officials should do a study on stock trading among state lawmakers and other public officials to identify potential reforms.

On Capitol Hill, there are several competing proposals for restricting lawmakers from trading stocks. It's not yet clear whether Congress will pursue a ban that only affects members, or whether they'll extend it to spouses, senior aides, and even members of the judiciary.

"I think we ought to take a study, see what makes the most sense," Crist said of what should happen in Florida. "Maybe Congress can offer leadership in this regard for whatever comes out."

Florida rules do prohibit state lawmakers from voting on issues that would personally benefit them financially, explained Ben Wilcox, research director at Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan transparency and anti-corruption research group.

But unlike members of Congress, members of the legislature tend to also have a second job — so lawmakers are allowed to vote on issues that might affect their employer's finances.

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"In Florida the bar for the legislature having a conflict of interest is very high," Wilcox said.

Any charges of personal gain could be investigated by the Florida Commission on Ethics, Wilcox added, but none of late have centered on stocks.

Crist, then a Republican, served as Florida governor from 2007 to 2011. If he secures the Democratic nomination for governor, he'll advance to a November election against DeSantis, who has become a major star nationally and is primed to seek the presidency in 2024 if former President Donald Trump doesn't run. DeSantis' financial disclosure shows he does not trade individual stocks.

Many Democratic strategists see the governor's race as crucial to stopping DeSantis from seeking the nation's highest office.

Crist said he supported efforts by Democratic leaders in Congress to restrict or ban members from trading individual stocks.

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"It all comes down to accountability, and disclosure and transparency are all very important, as well as making sure you're not using your position for profit gain," Crist said, adding that he understood why the issue was salient to voters.

"They just want their leaders to do the right thing, and that's not asking too much," he said.

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