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DeSantis says he sold all stocks; House disclosures show otherwise

GOP presidential candidate calls for banning trades by members of Congress

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would support a ban on stock trading by members of Congress and would eliminate members' pensions.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would support a ban on stock trading by members of Congress and would eliminate members' pensions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In a forthcoming interview, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he supports a ban on congressional stock trading, and cites his experience as a House member.

“I was a congressman for three terms,” the Republican presidential candidate tells CNBC’s Brian Sullivan, according to a transcript the network sent out ahead of the Monday night airing of the interview. “I sold all my stock before I went in because I used to do day trading – not that I had a lot of money, but I would do it. I just stopped doing it because the thing is, is if I traded something, someone will then say maybe some vote was there. And I didn’t even want the appearance of impropriety.”

But the Republican presidential candidate’s financial disclosure reports show that DeSantis continued to hold a small amount of stock in two companies — Sirius XM Holdings Inc. and United States Steel Corp. — throughout his time in the House from 2013 to 2018. DeSantis only reported one transaction while in Congress, reporting that he moved cash from a Scottrade brokerage account to his bank accounts in 2016.

DeSantis’ 2018 financial disclosure form filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics also shows the Scottrade brokerage account holding $1,851 in U.S. Steel stock and $1,716 in Sirius XM stock.

It appears that DeSantis did sell off most of his stocks before taking office — his 2012 disclosure form as a congressional candidate shows holdings worth between $1,001 and $15,000 in companies like Altria and ExxonMobil and the sale of shares in other companies and exchange-traded funds. But he held onto U.S. Steel and Sirius XM.

The DeSantis campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It’s unclear if DeSantis — who reported more than $1 million in savings and checking accounts in his latest gubernatorial disclosure — simply forgot about the stocks or if he misspoke.

In the CNBC interview, DeSantis also called for eliminating the congressional pension, which kicks in at age 62 for retired members who spent at least five years in Congress, saying, “I would eliminate congressional pensions for members of Congress. They should – they have a 401k. They don’t need both.”

The congressional pension plan includes automatic enrollment in the Federal Employees Retirement System, which includes a Thrift Savings Plan; DeSantis’ financial disclosures as governor showed he held a TSP worth $91,719 as of 2022.

According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, the 358 members who retired under the FERS system are receiving an average pension of $45,276 per year (members who joined Congress before September 30, 2003, were covered by a different pension plan).

The idea of banning members from owning or trading individual stocks has gained traction recently, fueled by allegations of politicians using intel gleaned from closed-door briefings to inform their moves in the market. While members are prohibited from trading on nonpublic information under the STOCK Act of 2012 (and securities law’s general prohibition on fraudulent activities), they often fail to follow that law’s mandate to disclose financial holdings, and some in recent years have been convicted of insider trading.

As COVID-19 first started spreading in America, senators on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Foreign Relations; and Intelligence committees received briefings from federal health officials. Some of them then offloaded stocks before the market went into free fall in early February 2020, leading the Justice Department to an investigation into former Sen. Richard Burr’s trades (the DOJ ultimately declined to pursue charges).

A University of Maryland poll in July found that 86 percent of registered voters support banning members and their immediate family from trading individual stocks.