After his wife's ExxonMobil sale led to a STOCK Act violation, Rep. Peter Welch says he and his wife will no longer trade individual stocks

·5 min read
Rep. Peter Welch at a House Oversight Committee hearing on September 30, 2020.
Rep. Peter Welch at a committee hearing on September 30, 2020.Greg Nash/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
  • Peter Welch said he and his wife would no longer hold individual stocks, reiterating a 2020 pledge.

  • Welch disclosed his wife's sale of ExxonMobil stock one week late, violating the STOCK Act.

  • A conservative watchdog group filed a complaint against Welch, who's now running for Senate.

Rep. Peter Welch said he'd give up individual stock trading after an Insider investigation revealed that the Vermont Democrat was one week late in disclosing his wife's sale of $6,238 worth of ExxonMobil shares in September.

"Rep. Welch has decided to no longer own individual stocks," Welch's communications director, Arianna Jones, told Insider. The eight-term congressman made a similar pledge in April 2020, but this time it's backed up by a new filing indicating that he's sold off all his individual stocks.

Asked for clarification, Welch's chief of staff, Patrick Satalin, told Insider that the pledge now applies to his wife, Margaret Cheney.

Welch's failure to disclose his wife's stock purchase in a timely manner constituted a violation of the disclosure provisions of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012, which Welch cosponsored.

Insider recently published the Conflicted Congress series, a five-month investigation that found 52 members of Congress — including Welch — and 182 senior congressional staffers in violation of the federal insider-trading-prevention law.

Insider also uncovered several conflicts of interest, including more than a dozen environmentally minded Democrats who had invested in fossil-fuel companies or other corporations with concerning environmental track records.

Asked recently whether members of Congress and their spouses should be barred from trading stocks while serving, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected the idea. "'We are a free-market economy," she said. "They should be able to participate in that."

In Insider's index of each member's compliance with transparency rules, Welch earned a "borderline" rating, which generally indicates a few STOCK Act violations by either members or their staffers.

The conservative watchdog Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust filed a complaint against Welch last week with the Office of Congressional Ethics, calling for the body to investigate and apply requisite penalties.

Welch's office did not comment on the complaint.

In November, after Sen. Pat Leahy announced his retirement, Welch launched a Senate campaign, earning the endorsement of the progressive titan Sen. Bernie Sanders.

'The clearest way to avoid even the appearance of a conflict'

Rep. Peter Welch speaks at a climate rally on July 20, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Welch speaks at a climate rally in Washington, DC, on July 20.Shannon Finney/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network

Welch's spokeswoman told Insider in November that Cheney had sold her 113 shares of ExxonMobil stock on September 17 after inheriting the asset through her mother's estate.

Welch learned of that trade — which his office said was made by his wife's financial advisor — three days before he grilled the oil company's CEO, Darren Woods, during a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Welch said ExxonMobil had withheld data and information about climate change.

"The issue here is credibility," Welch, an outspoken environmentalist, said.

While oil companies didn't initially know about climate change, "they were the first to learn about it, and, learning about it, concealed and denied it," said Welch, who for years has publicly criticized ExxonMobil's corporate responsibility and commitment to addressing the climate crisis.

Twelve days later, Welch disclosed the sale.

"This transaction had no impact on his line of questioning towards ExxonMobil's chief executive officer about the company's negligence and failure to disclose internal documents warning of the dangers of climate change," his spokeswoman, Jones, said at the time.

The conservative group, however, slammed Welch for violating the act and questioning ExxonMobil's CEO days after learning that his wife had sold its stock.

"What makes this case egregious, beyond the violation itself, is that his office acknowledged that he knew of the transaction prior to the reporting deadline and not only missed it, but grilled the ExxonMobil CEO about transparency and credibility just days later," said Kendra Arnold, the group's executive director.

On December 17, Welch filed a Periodic Transaction Report suggesting that he'd dumped all his individual stocks in late November.

Jones told Insider that the filing "reflects" the congressman's decision to forgo individual stocks, and she touted Welch as a "long-standing supporter of ethics reform and transparency in government" and a supporter of the Ban Conflicted Trading Act. That bill, which was introduced in March but has not received a hearing, would prohibit members of Congress from buying and selling individual stocks.

But Welch had pledged in 2020 to stop trading individual stocks after the nonprofit news organization VTDigger found that he had profited from his financial manager's investment in a COVID-19 testing firm.

"I have made a decision that the clearest way to avoid even the appearance of a conflict is to simply stop making purchases" of individual stocks "directly and indirectly through my adviser," he told VTDigger in April 2020. He also told WCAX, a local CBS affiliate, that he was instructing his financial advisor to invest only in mutual or exchange-traded funds.

But that pledge was undermined by a disclosure he filed in August that revealed that he owned several individual stocks at that time, including shares of General Electric, IBM, PayPal, Unilever, and others.

Welch's office did not respond to detailed questions from Insider about which sorts of financial investments he might make in the future, what he thought of Pelosi's remarks on stock trading, or why he'd failed to live up to his pledge until now.

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