PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin has been playing the markets aggressively all year despite coming out in support of a ban on stock trading by members of Congress, Target 12 has discovered.
An analysis of financial disclosures by Target 12 reveals Langevin executed trades involving major companies 89 times during the first eight months of 2022, reporting purchases and sales totaling at least $1 million — and possibly much more, since lawmakers aren’t required to disclose exact amounts. (The maximum he could have traded would be $3.2 million.)
And despite serving as chairman of a House subcommittee that deals with cybersecurity, Langevin has regularly used a financial product known as a “call option” to place bets on the short-term share price swings of major tech companies, including PayPal, Netflix, Airbnb, Alibaba, Block and Zillow.
More than a dozen of Langevin’s transactions involved Meta, the parent company of Facebook. On June 13, for example, Langevin purchased between $1,001 and $15,000 worth of call options in Meta. That gave him a six-week window to buy the company’s shares at a specified price — $190 — and thus the ability to profit if Facebook shares were higher than that on the day he actually bought them.
Nearly all of the transactions occurred after Langevin appeared on the Jan. 28 edition of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers, where he expressed support for proposals to ban such activity by members of Congress.
“I think it’s clear now that people have concerns about members of Congress trading in stocks, and they feel that it’s not appropriate,” Langevin said at the time.
After being presented with Target 12’s findings late last week, Langevin issued a lengthy statement saying he has always followed the law as an investor and a lawmaker.
“It’s so important that Rhode Islanders trust their elected representatives to work on behalf of their constituents’ best interests, not their own,” he said. “That’s what I have done throughout my entire career, and I will continue to do so up until my final day in office.”
Target 12’s analysis shows Langevin stands out for his investing activities among the four members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, all of whom are Democrats.
Two of the four, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and Congressman David Cicilline, have reported no financial transactions at all in 2022. And while U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has reported transactions in accounts belonging to himself and his wife, a spokesperson said the Whitehouses “do not trade stocks, and their account manager acts independently without any input from the senator or his wife.”
Langevin’s personal finances are also more opaque than those of his delegation colleagues, since he is the only one of the four who refuses to release his tax returns. Langevin spokesperson Matt Fidel pointed to previous statements by his office which said that sharing his tax documents would reveal sensitive medical information about the 11-term Democrat, who is the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress.
The 2nd District congressman’s investing activities are now drawing criticism from Issue One, a Washington-based advocacy group that has been campaigning for a ban on congressional trading.
“The people of Rhode Island must be able to trust that their elected representatives are working in the best interest of their constituents, not their own financial portfolios,” said Elise Wirkus, legislative director at Issue One.
“When members of Congress like Rep. Langevin, who sits on the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection, trade stock in companies whose business interests directly relate to his committee assignments, it creates the appearance that he is privy to information that’s not available to the public,” she said. “That can fracture people’s trust in government.”
Langevin’s buying and selling has continued even as pressure mounts in Washington for members of Congress to enact a ban on their own stock trading. Top House Democrats had to scrap a planned vote on such a ban last week due to opposition among some members of their own party, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
The topic has also become an issue in the race to replace Langevin, who announced in January he would retire after 22 years in Congress. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, the Democrat endorsed by Langevin to be his successor, is currently airing a campaign TV ad in which he says it should be illegal for lawmakers to trade stocks.
“Public officials should serve the people, not get rich off their positions,” Magaziner declares in the commercial.
In his statement to Target 12, Langevin argued he has done just that.
“With respect to participating in the capital markets, I make my investment decisions in consultation with my financial advisor,” he said. “I have only ever made investments based on publicly available information. As you know, it is illegal for any member of Congress to trade stocks based on non-public information, as it should be.”
“Still, it has become clear that members’ ability to invest in the capital markets has created a perception of unfairness, which I think is very unfortunate,” Langevin continued. “However, I believe it’s important to address that perception, which is why I support legislation to prevent members of Congress from trading stock.”
Langevin added: “I have – and will always – follow the law to its fullest extent, which includes the mandatory, regular public disclosure of all financial transactions.” He also pledged that if Congress does enact a ban on trading, he “will fully comply with its new requirements” once it becomes law.
Issue One’s Wirkus said, “Proper disclosure is not enough.”
“It’s time for both parties to put ethics above personal interests and prohibit members of Congress, spouses, and dependent children from buying and selling individual stocks while in office,” she said.
Neither Magaziner nor his Republican opponent, Allan Fung, was willing to directly comment on Langevin when Target 12 asked whether they think his financial activities are appropriate. Instead, each man ignored the question about Langevin and instead issued a statement criticizing the other one.
Langevin is scheduled to co-host a fundraiser for Magaziner later this week along with the rest of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation. Fung has called on Magaziner to return campaign donations he has received from lawmakers who have traded stocks while in office, citing the Democratic nominee’s TV ads.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook