‘Revolutionary’ AI Tool Holds Congress Accountable for Stock Trades

  • A graduate study project could transform the way lawmakers are held accountable for stock market transactions.
  • PoliWatch, developed for a UC Berkeley capstone project, helps researchers detect malpractice.
  • Still in “private beta”, its founders have not yet developed a business plan.

A group of California-based graduate students developed an AI-powered tool to detect insider trading in Congress as quickly as possible. Although still in its infancy, the program could provide a revolutionary way for journalists, researchers and the general public to hold public officials accountable.

For their fall 2023 master’s capstone project at UC Berkeley, Mats Dodd, Aditya Shah, Jocelyn Thai and Connor Yen came up with the idea for PoliWatch to see if insider trading is such a widespread problem in Congress as many perceive it.

“We dug into this and were really disappointed when we discovered that over the last decade there had been maybe twelve successful investigations that had gone anywhere,” Dodd told Business Insider , adding that he thought congressional ethics committees tended to sweep infractions “under the law.” carpet.”

Shah explained that PoliWatch works by feeding its system public information about congressional stockpiles, hearing schedules, committee assignments and sponsored travel.

“We essentially contextualize stock transactions with key information such as legislatively sponsored committee missions and our team of investigative experts to easily identify suspicious activity,” Shah said, noting that the tool was already capable of ‘identify when lawmakers have made it questionable related to COVID. occupations during the pandemic, which the Justice Department investigated in 2020.

Screenshot of a dashboard containing information on Congressional stock trading

PoliWatch’s front-end dashboard.


“We really look at this tool as kind of a magnifying glass on what’s going on and allowing people to see what’s really going on because it’s crazy,” Dodd said.

Robert Maguire, research director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is excited about the potential use cases for the new tool.

“As I understand it, this will potentially revolutionize the ability of the public and journalists to track the stock transactions and property of members of Congress,” Maguire said.

PoliWatch is in a “private beta” period as the project lacks external financial support. Currently, it costs the team about $500 a month to stay online and online. Shah said the team is always planning to update and improve the product, but that’s not anyone’s full-time job — they haven’t even created a business for PoliWatch yet.

Another reason why the project is not yet available to the public is its youth. Dodd said that for now, the team wants “a human to be aware of all the results of our model, because we want people with expertise in this area to verify the information” and that the data does not are not misinterpreted.

Shah added that in the future, they would like to expand PoliWatch’s reach beyond congressional dealings to promote corporate accountability as well.

The thorny trade history of Congress

As Business Insider’s in-depth investigation into 2021’s “Conflicted Congress” revealed, lawmakers routinely violate the federal Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act with few consequences. Many members of Congress own stock in companies that overlap with their committee assignments.

Public opinion against members of Congress and their families trading stocks came to a head in late 2021 when Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, spoke out against banning the practice during ‘a press conference.

Pelosi standing in front of a microphone and answering questions

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to members of the press after a classified members-only briefing.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

A 2022 poll by Data for Progress found that 70% of likely voters supported a ban on stock trading in Congress, and just under half felt it would make them more likely to vote for a candidate if they supported a prohibition.

Although bipartisan anti-Congress bills have been introduced in recent years, none have come up for a vote in the House or Senate.

Dodd said he sees PoliWatch as a way to try to restore trust in congressional transparency.

“In terms of building public trust and trust in the people who run our country, we are at an all-time low,” he said. “This could be a big push to talk about it.”


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