Home>Campaigns>As Kean focuses on stock troubles, Malinowski emphasizes good governance record

Rep. Tom Malinowski. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

As Kean focuses on stock troubles, Malinowski emphasizes good governance record

Vulnerable congressman is cosponsor on multiple bills to limit congressional stock actions

By Joey Fox, February 22 2022 4:08 pm

Is Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) a good government crusader? Or is he a con man hoping to obscure his past mistakes?

As Congress debates a ban on stock trading for its members, that question has come to the forefront in the race for New Jersey’s 7th congressional district, where Malinowski faces a likely rematch with former Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield).

Last spring, Business Insider reported that Malinowski had failed to properly disclose dozens of stock trades, which led to an inquiry by the House Ethics Committee that is still ongoing. The story prompted Kean, who nearly unseated Malinowski in 2020, to hammer the congressman as an unethical actor who should be booted from Congress.

But Malinowski put his stocks into a blind trust over the summer, and has since joined the movement to ban congressional stock trading as one of its most vocal supporters. And to hear his campaign tell it, his prominence isn’t a facade; rather, it’s a continuation of the work he had already been doing in Congress even before stock trading made the news.

“Since before Congressman Malinowski entered the House, he has been a leader in promoting transparency between elected officials and the people they represent,” the Malinowski campaign’s communications director, Naree Ketudat, said in a statement. “He was one of the first to champion HR-1, which prohibits members of Congress from serving on corporate boards and strengthens the Office of Congressional Ethics… Malinowski has never taken corporate money and Kean has taken tons, even from corporations he owns stocks in.”

Malinowski has also sponsored the SCAM PAC Act, which would target political action committees that raise donations for personal gain, during both of his terms in office, providing another notch in his good-governance record. And he’s started to hit Kean for Kean’s own stock transactions as a New Jersey legislator, an office which is subject to far fewer regulations than members of Congress.

The Kean campaign isn’t buying it. In an interview, Kean for Congress campaign manager Dan Scharfenberger said that Malinowski is simply trying to cover up an unethical past.

“It really comes from a disingenuous place,” Scharfenberger said of Malinowski’s push to ban stock trading. “Tom Malinowski only does the right thing after he’s been caught. It’s happened time and time again. It’s a pattern.”

On the issue itself, the candidates might not be that different; Scharfenberger said that Kean supports the Trust In Congress Act and the Ban Conflicted Trading Act, two bills co-sponsored by Malinowski that would require members of Congress to place their stocks into blind trusts and prohibit congressional stock trading, respectively.

That position is an increasingly mainstream one; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have expressed their support, as have an increasing number of upstart congressional candidates like Nick De Gregorio, a Republican running in the state’s 5th congressional district.

But Scharfenberger insisted that even if there is alignment on the issue itself, voters should care about the histories of those pushing for reform.

“[Malinowski’s advocacy] is all politics, it isn’t an honest approach,” he said. “This is akin to a bank robber pulling a job, getting caught, going to jail, and becoming an advocate immediately for harsher sentences and penalties for bank robbers. This does not come from a place of reform. This comes from a place of getting caught in the public eye, and only then coming around to do the right thing.”

Altogether, voters are confronted with two competing narratives that both happen to basically be true. Malinowski, like many congressional Democrats first elected in 2018, was and is a crusader for good government reform; at the same time, he didn’t pick up the issue of congressional stock trading until he himself got put in the hot seat.

Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said that no matter what Malinowski’s and Kean’s respective histories on the issue are, it benefits each of them to play offense: Kean, because it provides an easy way to cast Malinowski as an incumbent “gone Washington,” and Malinowski, because framing the issue proactively can only help.

“The best answer that [Malinowski] is going to come up with is to say, ‘Currently, rules allow members of Congress to trade. And I traded. Going forward, I don’t think members of Congress should trade, and that’s why I’m getting behind this measure,’” Rasmussen said. “I don’t know that he’s going to do any better than that.”

Interestingly, Malinowski has not always phrased his support for banning congressional stock trading in quite that way, since doing so would require admitting some level of wrongdoing before the House Ethics Committee finishes its work. But in an interview with NBC News – Malinowski was not available for an interview with the New Jersey Globe – he indirectly tied recent legislation to his own stock history.

“I wish I’d come to this conclusion the day I was sworn in,” the congressman said.

Rasmussen also noted that, for the Kean campaign anyways, the facts of the matter likely no longer matter all that much. Even if the House Ethics Committee gives Malinowski a clean bill of health (or simply remains in limbo as it has for months), it’s hard to imagine the Kean campaign dropping a politically potent line of attack.

“They have their charge in hand, and they’re not going to let go of it,” he said. “They’re going to be like a dog with a bone, and who can blame them? It is a clear-cut issue.”

In a hypothetical world where Malinowski never had any stock troubles to begin with, he’d still be vulnerable this year. Kean only lost by a point in 2020 (before any scandal had broken), and the state’s new congressional map shifts the 7th district several points towards Republicans.

But Rasmussen said that, regardless of other factors, November’s election results may partially depend on how much the congressman is able to sell voters on his legislative record – a record that, in many cases, Kean himself supports – and overcome negative perceptions.

“If Malinowski can legitimately claim some leadership role [in banning congressional stock trading] and say, ‘This is a reform I had something to do with,’ that is something that voters can say, ‘Alright, here’s something constructive to come out of this whole episode,’” he said.

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