Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), a top lieutenant of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, unloaded upwards of $50,000 in stock after being briefed about the coronavirus pandemic.
Bustos, who chairs the Democratic National Campaign Committee (DCCC), sold off between $15,000 and $50,000 worth of stock in the Walt Disney Company on February 10, according to financial disclosure forms. The sale, which was accompanied by a purchase of the same amount of shares in the retail giant Target, came as the House Appropriations Committee, on which Bustos serves, was privy to briefings from Trump administration officials regarding the pandemic.
One of those took place on February 7, three days before Bustos sold the stock. In that briefing, the House appropriations committee and its Senate counterpart were given a preview by State Department and USAID officials to the Trump administration’s proposed FY2021 budget for combatting global health threats.
The issue of the coronavirus, however, was not far from mind. Earlier that morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had announced the federal government would spend upwards of $100 million helping China and other countries afflicted with the pandemic combat its spread. Despite that news, the briefing proved to be acrimonious, according to sources. Congressional Democrats, in particular, were rankled by cuts the administration was suggesting to the World Health Organization (WHO). At the time, more than one lawmaker argued such cuts were inappropriate given the looming pandemic.
It is unclear if Bustos did attend the briefing, as her congressional office did not return requests for comment. The congresswoman, though, was in Washington, DC, and voted on several pieces of legislation while the House was in session.
If she did attend the briefing, Bustos chose not to publicize the concerns colleagues raised about pandemic and funding for the WHO. When the full budget was made public on February 11, the congresswoman’s office put out an extensive press statement castigating it for failing to “lower health care costs, support for our farmers” and invest “in our crumbling infrastructure.”
“While the Administration’s proposal makes some strides, it cuts funding for critical programs that hardworking families across the Midwest depend on,” Bustos said of the proposal.
The statement, which included a categorical breakdown of the entire 138-page budget proposal, made no mention of the coronavirus or the suggested reduction to WHO. The closest Bustos came to the topic was a one-sentence critique of the Trump administration’s proposal to decrease funding the Centers for Disease Control gave to states to prevent chronic illness “like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.”
Bustos’s sale comes into the spotlight as several other high-ranking members of Congress are under fire for dumping stock before the coronavirus threat reached its height.
Most notably, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) has made headlines for unloading upwards of $1.7 million in stock while receiving confidential briefings about the pandemic. Burr, who is facing a Department of Justice probe over the matter, made his decision to sell three days after Bustos. The timing seemed crucial for both, as less than a week later, the stock market sharply dropped because of fears about the pandemic.
Timing, however, was not the only similarity. Even though Burr sold off significantly more stock than Bustos, both lawmakers opted to dump investments in the travel and hospitality industries. The move, seemingly simple in hindsight, was against financial trends at the time. In fact, Walt Disney, one of few remaining corporations in Bustos’s stock portfolio at the point of sale, was trading a few dollars short of a five-year high. Less than two weeks after Bustos sold, it hit a low unseen since the early 2010s.