Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) was one of only three members of the United States Senate to oppose bipartisan legislation in 2012 barring lawmakers from using non-public information to reap profits on the stock market.
Burr, who at the time had just been reelected to his second term representing North Carolina in Congress, opposed the STOCK Act on the basis that there were already existing laws in place to address insider trading. The fact that existing laws were rarely used to punish members of Congress for insider trading, despite their being plenty of evidence such dealings took place, seemed not to the bother the senator.
“We’re doing this at a time when we should be talking about the economy and jobs,” the senator told North Carolina reporters shortly after voting against the bill. “Why do the (American people) think so little of us? Because we’re not even debating the things that are most important to them.”
At the time of Burr’s vote, the STOCK Act was widely popular with political figures on both the left and the right. It not only garnered the endorsement of President Barack Obama but also staunch Tea Party conservative then-Senator Jeff Sessions.
The idea for the legislation stemmed from revelations in Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich Off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison by Peter Schweizer, a senior contributor at Breitbart News and president of the Government Accountability Institute. In his book, Schweizer detailed how both Republicans and Democrats in Congress sold stock in 2008 after receiving closed-door briefings on the imminent financial crisis.
Burr’s opposition to the popular law comes back into the spotlight as the senator is under fire for unloading thousands of dollars worth of stock less than a week before the stock market sharply dropped because of the coronavirus pandemic. The senator’s timely sell-off netted between $628,000 and $1.72 million. Most of the shares were in companies like Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Hilton that took an especially hard hit as coronavirus travel restrictions went into place.
More troubling is that the transactions, 33 in total, came as the Intelligence Committee, which Burr chairs, was receiving daily briefings on the pandemic. Given that fact, when news of the sell-off broke, speculation began to stir that the senator had acted on inside information to protect his assets. If true, Burr could potentially be found in violation of the STOCK Act.
On Friday, as calls for him to resign over the matter grew, Burr admitted that the coronavirus pandemic had played a role in his decision to sell, but he asserted he did not act on information privileged to only members of Congress.
“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13,” Burr said in the statement, before urging the Senate Ethics Committee to launch an investigation into his conduct.