January 17, 2017 / 7:10 PM / 8 months ago

Trump nominee spreads insider-trading disease

Representative Tom Price (R-GA), President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to be secretary of health and human services, arrives to meet with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley in Grassley's office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. December 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) - One of Donald Trump’s nominees is spreading the insider-trading disease. Georgia Representative Tom Price, tapped to be U.S. health and human services secretary, has raised new conflicts-of-interest concerns. He bought shares in publicly traded companies while working on bills affecting them.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday, a day before Price is due to face a confirmation hearing, that his congressional colleague may have broken the law. According to CNN, Price bought shares in Zimmer Biomet last year just before introducing Medicare legislation that would have helped the $23 billion maker of artificial hips. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Price, who is an orthopedic surgeon, made trades worth more than $300,000 in stocks of healthcare and pharmaceutical companies over the last four years, during which he was a member of a House health subcommittee.

If confirmed, Price would lead a vast agency that includes the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. To avoid ethical questions, Price indicated he would divest more than 40 stock investments, which include Aetna and Pfizer.

It’s a little late. In 2012, Congress moved to prevent insider trading among lawmakers. The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge, or STOCK Act, bans lawmakers and their teams from using non-public information for their personal benefit.

They have pushed back aggressively against enforcement, however. For more than two years, the House Ways and Means Committee has fought a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission of a former staff director of the health subcommittee, who is accused of leaking information about a Medicare bill to a lobbyist. In November 2016, they agreed on a way for the SEC to review documents it was seeking.

Moral ambiguity is becoming an early hallmark of the Trump administration, which is set to include wealthy chief executives, investors and bankers. The president-elect said last week instead of separating himself from his real-estate and other businesses by selling them or setting up a blind trust, he will hand over control to his eldest sons. The Price episode is more of the same and reflects badly on him, the president-elect and Congress.

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