Republican Rep. John Curtis of Utah, who is weighing a bid to replace outgoing Republican Sen. Mitt Romney in 2024, has a long history of stock trading while in office.
After declining to run following Romney’s mid-September announcement not to seek another term in the upper chamber, the congressman told local station 2KUTV on Nov. 9 that he’s reconsidering a campaign. Curtis has made several well-timed stock trades during events such as the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the banking crisis earlier this year.
In the initial phase of COVID-19, Curtis bought stock in several companies that ended up benefiting from the pandemic, according to financial disclosures. On March 4, the congressman purchased $1,001 to $15,000 worth of stocks in Zoom, a video conference platform that became popular amid the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders, as well as up to $15,000 each in BlackRock and Abbott Laboratories.
Curtis’ purchase of the Abbott Laboratories stock came on the same day the Food and Drug Administration granted the company authority to produce the “fastest available” COVID-19 tests. The congressman also bought stock in BlackRock on March 27, which the Federal Reserve asked days earlier to purchase bonds on behalf of the government in anticipation of economic uncertainty during the pandemic.
Curtis made a partial sale of his stock in Abbott Laboratories in October 2022 on a day when the company’s share price closed at $95.06, according to financial disclosures, while the company’s share price closed at $74.56 on the day of his purchase. BlackRock shares closed at $434.34 the day of Curtis’ March 2020 purchase; however, Curtis sold some of his stock in BlackRock in January 2022 when the share price closed at $848.6, financial disclosures show.
The congressman told The Salt Lake Tribune in early April 2020 that the stocks purchased in Abbott Laboratories and BlackRock were done without his prior knowledge by a mutual fund manager.
“I didn’t even know I owned Abbott stocks, BlackRock, Activision, Costco, everything but the Zoom and Amazon, I was never consulted on,” Curtis said.
As for Zoom, Curtis told the outlet he heeded the advice of CNBC’s Jim Cramer, who the congressman said had “been advocating for the stock for some time.”
“Unfortunately, I’m losing as much money as anyone else,” Curtis said at the time, referencing his purchase of other stocks that suffered during the pandemic. “In essence, I watched my portfolio, my stock portfolio, drop about 30 percent with everybody else’s.”
Curtis assured the outlet that he wasn’t receiving any inside information on the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather listened to the news.
Shortly thereafter, liberal watchdog group Accountable.US filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics against the congressman, calling for an investigation on the grounds of “potential violations of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge [STOCK] Act and House Ethics Rules.”
“On March 4, 2020, Curtis purchased up to $15,000 in stock in the video conferencing service Zoom, which has since seen its usage increase twenty-fold due to the increase in remote work during the Coronavirus crisis,” the complaint read. “That same day, Rep. Curtis purchased up to $15,000 worth of 6 stock in Atlassian Corporation, another software company that develops tools used for remote workers, and up to $15,000 of stock in Amazon.com.”
The STOCK Act of 2012 prohibits members of Congress from “using nonpublic information derived from their official positions for personal benefit, and for other purposes,” according to the bill’s text.
“The STOCK Act is an important accountability mechanism to ensure Members of Congress are not using their positions of power for financial gain,” Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of Americans for Public Trust, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Congressman Curtis should be given the opportunity to answer any questions or allegations raised and embrace the standard of transparency necessary to preserve public trust in our elected officials.”
In 2021, Curtis had the fourth-best performing stock portfolio in Congress, after Republican Reps. Austin Scott of Georgia, Brian Mast of Florida and French Hill of Arkansas, according to Unusual Whales, an independent site that tracks members’ stock trading.
Following Congress’ passage of the CHIPS and Sciences Act, with anticipation of the president’s signing, Unusual Whales released a report in July 2022 estimating the members who could have received the highest returns on their semiconductor stock trades. Curtis placed in third among the representatives behind only Democratic Reps. Don Beyer of Virginia and Tom Suozzi of New York.
Most recently, Curtis sold stocks during the banking crisis earlier in the year.
Following the early March collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, shares in First Republic Bank plummeted by nearly 70%. On the day of First Republic Bank’s March 16 bailout, Curtis sold up to $15,000 in the bank’s stock, which was marked as a subholding of his mutual fund, according to financial disclosures.
The congressman also sold stocks in Bank of America the same day, according to financial disclosures.
First Republic Bank’s share price later plummeted in the weeks following the trade, and federal regulators sold it to JPMorgan Chase on May 1.
Curtis has been serving in Congress since 2017, when he easily secured the seat in a special election, and has won every subsequent term by double-digit margins. The congressman used to be a Democrat.
If Curtis runs for Senate, he’ll have to face several GOP opponents for a seat that The Cook Political Report characterizes as “Solid Republican.”
Utah’s House Speaker Brad Wilson launched his campaign in late September, while Riverton mayor Trent Staggs was the first to jump in the race, primarying Romney for the seat ahead of his retirement announcement.
Several other Republicans have been floated as potential candidates that could also jump in the already-competitive race for the open seat.
Neither Curtis’ congressional campaign nor his office responded to the DCNF’s requests for comment.
Mary Lou Masters on December 21, 2023