As the government barrels towards a shutdown, bipartisan flurries of lawmakers are rolling out legislation. They are taking aim at lawmaker pay, even their ability to raise money while American troops, border patrol and millions of others in the federal workforce go without remuneration.
One man has found himself at the center of it all: a military veteran and freshman member of Congress who wants to make the nation’s capital in Washington, DC look a lot more like Iowa’s capital, Des Moines.
As a state senator, Zach Nunn passed legislation that banned his colleagues, and himself, from trading individual stocks. He wasn’t necessarily ready to find senators in DC shoveling wads of cash and bricks of gold into their closets.
In Nunn’s mind, the government isn’t supposed to work this way. In Iowa, where he spent almost a decade in the state legislature, when the government can’t get its act together, the legislators are stuck in Des Moines until they hammer things out. As a result, the state’s budget has been balanced for years under Governor Kim Reynolds.
Now, with a fraction of House Republicans at odds with the vast majority of the conference — and Democrats salivating on the sidelines — the government is close to shutting down for the first time in the Biden administration. While Nunn is a newcomer to Congress, he’s a veteran of both the Air Force and of government shutdowns, knowing what it’s like for those in the military to wonder when their next paycheck will show up.
“I’ve been in the military for two decades now and I remember serving in Korea,” he told me. “It just meant that I went to work and served on the front line looking into North Korea, and I wasn’t being paid.”
A shutdown offers no upside to freshmen like Nunn — or in his mind, to virtually anyone. “Nobody’s home district right now is shouting out ‘hey let’s collapse the federal government, incur more debt.’” Rather than sit back and complain, Nunn is putting himself in the crossfires by rolling out a series of bills that aim to hit those pushing for a shutdown where it hurts the most: their wallets and their campaign bank accounts.
His first bill, the bipartisan No Work, No Pay Act, will dock a day’s salary of every lawmaker while the government is shut down; his second, the People Before Politics Act, while constitutionally questionable, will ban them from fundraising until the government gets its act together. This bill is, unsurprisingly, less popular with his colleagues. Nunn is rolling it out solo, having found that cutting off access to campaign cash isn’t exactly a popular move.
“We can no longer trust politicians to police themselves,” he warned, noting that college athletes can’t even bet on sports… so why should politicians be allowed to trade on any possible insider information? Nunn said he’ll “be the first to say there may be some constitutional questions here, but the spirit behind it is something that we all agree with: that people should not be, just like the stocks, enfranchising their own campaign, at the cost of the entire country.”
With House Republicans at odds over a handful of holdouts, Nunn finds himself firmly on Team Governor and not Team Postulate. “For the folks that are really taking the time to have Sunday morning talk shows where they make bumper sticker statements then don’t show up and do the hard work,” he said, “you have to ask the question: are these people out doing the best for the country or are they doing it for themselves?” It’s clear to Nunn that their focus is the latter.
Nunn’s bills come on the heels of his announcement that he updated his financial reports to show that he offloaded his two individual stocks before he even took office: Sirius Radio he inherited from his grandfather, and Walmart, which he bought while serving overseas.
He “took a bath” on his stock trades last year because of Bidenomics, which he sees as harmful to unions, veterans and seniors in his district. While he was not yet in office at the time of the sale, I asked Nunn if he’s ever gotten any stock tips from Nancy Pelosi: “Not yet, [however,] as soon as I do, I will share them widely and loudly.”
As he campaigned on making the switch from state to federal office, Nunn’s opponent almost couldn’t help but make his life easier — as she seemingly tried to make herself richer. Nunn, who represents the bluest district in ruby-red Iowa, defeated Cindy Axne last year by less than one percent. Part of what he cites for his narrow win was Axne’s never-ending stock purchasing, including of companies she oversaw in Congress.
At times it seemed as if Axne spent more time on Wall Street Bets and Robin Hood than she did in Congress, earning multiple reprimands for trades totaling more than $600,000, including on industries that she regulated. Shortly after taking office, Nunn rolled out the bipartisan Prohibit Insider Trading Act.
While Axne is out of Congress, the corruption didn’t exactly leave with her. Remarking on the recent news that Senator Bob Menendez was found with literal bars of gold in his home, potentially via generous-seeming foreign governments, Nunn said that news adds urgency to his work, calling the unapologetic New Jerseyan “audacious” in his quest for money.
“This is the epitome of ‘caught red-handed.’ And still you have members who are doing it. So what happens behind closed doors?” Nunn wondered.
For some reason, Congress under master stock trader Nancy Pelosi wasn’t exactly quick to ban itself from trading individual stocks — or to dock its pay while it doesn’t pay our troops. If Nunn has his way, that won’t be the case for much longer.