Trading in Congress: The Most Popular Stocks Owned by Congress

Updated July 23, 2021

Out of the 433 members of Congress that have reported their financial information publicly, over half of them are millionaires. In fact, there are over 50 members of Congress with a net worth of $10,000,000 or more. To find out how they continue to build their wealth year-after-year, we've put together a list of the top 10 most popular stock investments held by members of Congress.

And while this list may not come as a shock to some, the fact that Congress is allowed to buy and sell securities, while simultaneously making policy decisions about these companies, presents an interesting conflict of interest. If a member of Congress is on a committee to govern how a certain company can operate within a given sector, should that member be allowed to trade its stock?

While the legality and logic of this debate has continued for decades, what most Americans may not know is that not only can Congress members trade the stock of companies they oversee, but until 2012, they could trade based on private information they received as a part of their high-ranking position.

Congress Insider Trading Used to be...Legal?

Actually, yes. Members of Congress receive a wide range of market-moving information, whether by foreign government intel, corporate briefings, or other private information meant for government eyes only. This information may inform Congress of upcoming changes that may have significant impact on their current holdings, or increase the future value of a company they have yet to invest in.

The SEC defines insider trading as "buying or selling a security, in breach of a fiduciary duty or other relationship of trust and confidence, on the basis of material, nonpublic information about the security." This did not necessarily apply to members of Congress, because they don't have a fiduciary responsibility to the company, but are treated as a regular shareholder. So while corporate executives can't trade based on non-public information, Congress was allowed to.

That is, until a 2011 "60 Minutes" expose showed how members of Congress profited due to receiving insider information prior to the 2008 market crash. This led to the drafting and signing of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act.

The STOCK Act

In light of the public outcry on the "60 Minutes" piece, the STOCK Act was passed in 2012. The STOCK Act makes it illegal for members of Congress (and other federal employees, including the President) to trade securities based on material, nonpublic information. This includes the buying or selling of securities of individual companies.

The STOCK Act requires detailed financial disclosures of Congress member holdings, including assets, as well as mortgage terms. Material gains must be reported within 45 days of the transaction, showing when an asset is sold for a profit. It also prevents members of Congress from participating in initial public offerings (IPOs). 

Congress Historical Investment Holdings

Historically, Congress has been allowed to participate in individual stock investments with no restrictions, and were not required to disclose their holdings. The STOCK Act put an end to this, and information about Congress' investments is publicly available. Unfortunately, due to an amendment to the STOCK Act, the information is not readily available on a government website, but there are other places that have compiled the data to show what Congress has been invested in since 2008.

Note: The STOCK Act does not require reporting exact holdings, but instead a range that the investment falls within. The data shown give the minimum and maximum amount the assets may be worth. Data is compiled and shared publicly by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Here are the top 10 holdings by Congress members in 2008:

OrganizationTotal InvestorsMinimum InvestmentMaximum Investment
General Electric85$5,830,000$14,989,889
Procter & Gamble63$9,328,586$43,558,512
Cisco Systems61$1,798,518$4,288,443
Microsoft Corp59$3,134,925$6,255,848
Bank of America55$1,265,917$3,372,853
Pfizer Inc53$4,909,726$16,529,662
AT&T Inc51$1,750,112$4,339,054
Johnson & Johnson50$2,081,526$4,591,474
Intel Corp50$789,628$2,190,576
Exxon Mobil49$6,384,999$22,473,935

As you can see, there were a large number of Congress members invested in large companies, such as P&G, GE, and Microsoft. In fact, this is what a typical stock investor portfolio may look like, and there are no major surprises here. 

Here's how the top ten investments look for Congress members a few years later, in 2014:

OrganizationTotal InvestorsMinimum InvestmentMaximum Investment
General Electric60$2,390,516$5,803,441
Apple Inc53$3,812,906$11,582,841
Wells Fargo49$2,620,019$6,066,962
Procter & Gamble48$8,328,965$35,589,903
Microsoft Corp48$2,968,785$6,053,718
JPMorgan Chase & Co47$2,157,846$5,219,780
Bank of America42$950,398$2,705,347
Walt Disney Co42$1,336,436$3,204,388
Chevron Corp42$3,422,853$7,424,804
Verizon Communications42$853,966$2,641,908

The list doesn't look all that different six years later. Some shuffling of large cap stocks, more tech toward the top, but as you can see, there is a lot less money invested here. This may be due to the 2008-2009 financial crisis, or just more diversification outside of these top held positions.

Either way, this list looks fairly typical. 

10 Most Popular Stocks Owned by Congress in 2021

Here's what Congress is currently invested in:

OrganizationTotal InvestorsMinimum InvestmentMaximum Investment
Apple Inc79$9,654,688$38,853,590
Microsoft Corp66$6,777,342$23,462,249
Bank of America59$2,146,215$5,659,133
Walt Disney Co52$2,124,962$8,104,907
AT&T Inc49$1,222,407$2,821,355
Pfizer Inc47$2,630,444$8,206,395
Johnson & Johnson47$2,545,111$4,688,062
General Electric47$647,604$1,390,563
Exxon Mobil45$6,688,238$23,178,183
Alphabet Inc45$2,656,348$6,543,273

There are a few interesting items of note in this list:

  • Pfizer has climbed back into the top 10, at the #6 spot, with almost 50 Congress members holding the stock

  • General Electric has fallen down the list, despite being the #1 holding for almost a decade

  • Apple is overwhelmingly the favorite stock of Congress members, with Microsoft close behind

Congress seems to be bullish on tech stocks and based on their performance, one can see why. APPL and MSFT both have gained over 400% in the last five years, and continue to show strong earnings each quarter.

Overall, these top stocks don't show any signs of foul play by Congress, but they also don't tell the entire story.

Interesting Investment Moves by Congress Since 2008

While the STOCK Act was designed to put a halt to insider trading, there are still instances of questionable investment moves by members of Congress. Here are a few of the most recent trades by members of Congress that have come under scrutiny:

Spencer Bachus (R-AL). Bachus bought put options the day after a private meeting with the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, in September of 2008. He essentially placed a bet that the stock market would fall, and it did. He profited off of these trades, and it was perfectly legal. This was the biggest insider trading example that prompted the STOCK Act legislation.

Richard Burr (R-NC). The chair of the intelligence committee in 2020, after learning about the rapid progression of the coronavirus pandemic, unloaded over $1 million in stocks in mid-February, including several hundred thousand in hotel stocks. He was one of only three senators to vote against the STOCK Act in 2012.

Kelly Loeffler (R-GA). Loeffler was put under investigation for her stock trades in 2020 as well, including selling tens of millions of dollars in stocks after a private coronavirus briefing in January of 2020. She also purchased shares of Citrix, a technology company that offers remote-working software. These trades were made through a third-party advisory group handling these investments, but ended up raising an investigation that was later dismissed due to insufficient evidence of any wrongdoing.

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). More recently, Nancy Pelosi is facing scrutiny for her husband's timely trading of tech stocks. Paul Pelosi exercised a call option on 4,000 shares of Alphabet stock (Google's parent company), with a strike price of $1,200 per share. Shares of Alphabet were trading at $2,500 on June 18, 2021, when Paul exercised these options, netting the Pelosis' over $5 million. This came just a week before the House of Representatives put forth an antitrust bill aimed at further regulated "big tech." 

Final Thoughts

Congress members are free to buy and sell stocks, and as you can see, they have bet heavily in the tech and healthcare sectors. With Apple as the top holding for Congress members in 2018, those bets have paid off handsomely in 2021, with Apple stock almost triple its former valuation.

It also may be a bit shocking to the American public how much wealth is held by members of Congress, with over 50 deca-millionaires, and 50% of these elected officials holding millionaire status. While Congress pays a salary of less than $200,000 per year, these members have far more wealth than 99% of Americans.

And while insider trading is illegal, it seems that the conflict of interest of allowing members of Congress to purchase and sell individual stocks of companies they oversee policies for will remain. Elizabeth Warren is lobbying for banning the buying and selling of securities by lawmakers, but that proposal has yet to be voted on by the very individuals it would affect.

If you are interested in following how Congress is investing, you can find more information at the Center for Responsive Politics.

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