Fast. Short. Daily. We take you behind the headlines and help you understand the biggest stories driving politics and policy.
“It would be a crime for almost anyone in the executive branch to have medical device stock and weigh in on the medical device tax,” Painter said.
The practice is not uncommon in the House and Senate. While some lawmakers chose to hold only mutual funds or put their stocks into a blind trust in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, others buy and trade stocks despite past public outcry about them doing so.
In 2012, outrage over lawmakers’ stock trades — and their participation in lucrative initial public offerings — led Congress to pass the STOCK Act, which explicitly banned insider trading among lawmakers and required them to publicly disclose their trades online for the first time, allowing reporters and the public to see transactions such as Burr’s swift stock dump before the coronavirus panic.
Burr, who voted against the STOCK Act, has for years held stock in companies that are regulated by his committees. As early as 2012, the first year for which senators’ financial information is available online, Burr had invested $9,100 in the Bank of New York Mellon, a financial services company that is regulated by the Senate Finance Committee, and $24,300 in Philips, a conglomerate with interests in health care that are overseen by the Senate HELP Committee, his financial disclosures show. Burr sat on both committees at the time, and in the years since.
More recently, Burr has acquired stock in financial institutions such as U.S. Bank, and in insurance companies including MetLife and John Hancock, which are also regulated by the Senate Finance Committee.
And he invested in companies that had a vested interest in the trade negotiations that have taken place since Trump was elected, for which the Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction and approves trade deals. Burr and his wife purchased between $16,002 and $65,000 in Kimberly-Clark, the manufacturer of Kleenex and Huggies diapers which also owns brands in Mexico, in June 2018, as the United States’ trade wars with Mexico and China were escalating.
In June 2019 — as United States-China tensions worsened, shortly after the U.S. declared a tariff on Chinese products — Burr and his wife invested in 3M, again buying between $16,002 and $65,000 in stock. The company both imports supplies from China and sells goods there.
As he sits on the Senate health committee, Burr has repeatedly pushed to repeal the medical device tax while buying and selling stock in medical device companies. The issue is of importance to Burr’s home state of North Carolina, where there is a medical device industry.
But Burr wasn’t just weighing in on the policy. Between 2015 and 2017, he repeatedly adjusted his portfolio in medical device companies, acquiring between $31,003 and $115,000 worth of stock in Zimmer Biomet and buying and selling more stock in Philips. He also owned stock in the medical device manufacturer Abbott Labs.
Burr pushed to repeal the device tax, a part of Obamacare, for years. He also introduced two bills, in April and June of 2015, that would make it easier to get new medical devices approved by the federal government.
“If we are serious about lowering the cost and improving the quality of health care, it makes no sense to impose a tax on medical devices,” Burr said in January 2015.
In 2017, Republicans in Congress — buzzing from Trump’s election — attempted to repeal Obamacare, an effort Burr supported. When that failed, lawmakers pivoted to the medical device tax, securing a two-year delay for the tax in January 2018.
Though federal investigators are probing Burr, it may be difficult for them to determine if he engaged in insider trading. It’s especially hard to investigate such offenses among federal lawmakers, who are given protections under the Constitution that can hinder investigators from fully probing or prosecuting their legislative work, said Andrew Herman, a lawyer at Miller & Chevalier who advises lawmakers on ethics issues.
But Burr could face other penalties for his stock sales in the coming weeks.
“There’s no bar on the Senate Ethics Committee sanctioning him,” Herman said. “But much of the damage that he will suffer will come politically. It’s going to be a problem for him.”
Burr has said he has no plans to run for reelection in 2022.