Assistant Chicago Editor, The Huffington Post
In light of ethics investigations that have followed the recent passage of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act in the House, former U.S. Rep. Bill Foster is claiming Republican Rep. Judy Biggert (Ill.-13th) has a financial interest in the construction of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline and wants her to step away from all related legislation.
Foster, a Democrat who is challenging Biggert in Illinois' new 11th District, points to TransCanada stock, valued between $1,000 to $15,000, owned by the congresswoman's husband, according to Crain's Chicago Business columnist Greg Hinz.
TransCanada released its quarterly report last week, which points to overall gains, and Reuters reports that the company has experienced increased profitability over the last 12 months. While reports cite many contributing factors for growth during that time period, congressional votes to move forward with the pipeline likely had influence.
A spokesperson from Biggert's office told The Huffington Post that the congresswoman's support for the pipeline is "based entirely on her interest in creating American jobs, keeping energy costs down, and protecting the interests of her constituents who overwhelmingly support the project," and also notes that Mr. Biggert's investments date back to 2004, before the pipeline was an issue in Washington. The spokesman also pointed out that the congresswoman isn't actively involved in the family's investments, although financial holdings are legally shared between spouses.
"Neither Mr. Biggert nor Mrs. Biggert takes an active role in or directs their broker on purchases or sales of assets in their accounts," said Brian Colgan, a spokesperson from Biggert's office. "For many years, their broker has been under standing orders to use his own judgment in buying or selling for their accounts."
Still, Foster argues that the Biggerts' financial interest in TransCanada raises questions about the motivations behind the representative's political decisions. In December, he called on Biggert to sell her stock in the company.
"It is a conflict of interest, and a breach of public trust, for members of Congress to be buying, selling, or even holding individual stocks that are being influenced by congressional actions," Foster said in an emailed statement. "Congresswoman Biggert should divest herself of the TransCanada stock she owns -- or at minimum recuse herself from votes and public statements about stocks that she has a financial interest in."
Biggert has denied that her husband's investments affect her position on what she calls purely energy-related legislation, and a representative from her office pointed to her vote in favor of the STOCK Act that passed the House earlier this month.
But Biggert only supported the bill with her vote; she's one of only eight Illinois representatives who didn't co-sponsor the STOCK Act. Eleven Illinois reps are listed as co-sponsors, including Biggert's fellow Republicans Timothy Johnson, Robert Schilling, John Shimkus and Joe Walsh.
Additionally, the act passed by the House has been criticized for removing a key measure from the Senate-approved version -- language that would require people who collect political intelligence for sale to lobbyists and on Wall Street to register, like lobbyists currently do, in an attempt to curb business decisions based on inside knowledge of pending legislation. The House-approved bill now awaits reconciliation with the Senate bill, which passed with the provision in place.
The consequences of that legislation could pose further problems for Biggert. A day after the STOCK Act passed, the Office of Congressional Ethics launched an investigation into the investment activities of Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, over his alleged personal gains from Congress' $700 billion bailout of Wall Street in 2008.
Bachus and Biggert have worked together closely on financial legislation, and Biggert has accepted tens of thousands of dollars from Bachus since 2005 for her campaigns, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.
Though substantial polling has not been conducted in the race thus far, both candidates have secured significant endorsements recently: The National Education Association's political action committee voiced support for Biggert earlier this month, while Democratic Whip Dick Durbin voiced support for Foster on Wednesday.
Foster may be the least of Biggert's worries following Wednesday's announcement that Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham would be allowed to challenge her for the GOP ticket, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Cunningham had previously been thrown off the ballot on a technicality after a reportedly dyslexic volunteer inverted numbers on his signature forms.