This isn’t the first time that members of Congress have faced accusations that they misused information they learned on the job for their personal benefit. In November 2011, “60 Minutes” released an investigative report suggesting that several had engaged in extensive stock trading after learning secret details regarding the last financial crisis, in 2008-09. The problem was that while it looked and smelled like corruption, not everyone agreed that it violated federal securities laws. (That’s a separate question from whether the trading violated Congress’ self-imposed ethics rules, which senators can be censured or even thrown out of the Senate for violating, even if they didn’t break any law.)

Trading while in possession of material, nonpublic information—commonly called insider trading—is illegal. But insider trading is defined by case law, not statute. Those cases require that a duty, of trust or loyalty, be breached, or information to be otherwise misappropriated. For example, if a corporate executive learns of an impending deal for his company and trades his stock before the deal becomes public, he has likely violated insider trading law, in part because he violated the “trust” the company had in him to not exploit that information for his personal gain. But if there isn’t a duty being violated, then there isn’t insider trading. For example, suppose our executive was just a very obnoxious cellphone user. And suppose another person just happened to overhear the company’s name and the upcoming, not-yet-public deal. That lucky listener may trade on that information without violating the law because they have no direct or indirect duty to the source of the information.

Regulators have recently made it clear to “corporate insiders” that insider trading rules also cover material, nonpublic information related to the effects of the coronavirus outbreak. The same should obviously hold true for governmental insiders.

Members of Congress and their staffs learn a lot of information that the general public doesn’t know: They get briefings from others in government; they get selective information from large companies and trade associations. Congressional members are granted access to information precisely because they have the ability to influence outcomes, and they are entrusted to use their knowledge to make the best decisions for our country. Shouldn’t they then have a “duty” to not use the information they learn in their jobs for their own personal financial benefit?

A handful of senators and staff, including myself, drafted the STOCK Act to answer that question with a resounding yes. The law clearly and directly imposes a duty on government officials to not trade while in possession of material, nonpublic information “derived” from their positions or “gained in the performance” of their jobs. Additionally, the new law requires reporting of transactions after the fact, so that we can more easily learn about potential abuses. The law is not limited to information about a specific company or companies. It covers any “material, non-public information.”

In fact, while negotiating the bill, I used an example to explain the bill to other congressional aides and their bosses. Suppose a member of the Senate learns of a credible threat of a major impending terrorist attack in New York City. The STOCK Act would make it illegal for the senator to then sell a slew of hotel stocks. That would be a betrayal of the senator’s duty. Nobody with whom I spoke— on either side of the political aisle—disagreed. Ultimately, the STOCK Act overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law on April 4, 2012.

That brings us to now.

I am not in a position to judge whether the recent transactions by some senators violated the STOCK Act or, for that matter, other federal laws or ethics rules. Those questions should be thoroughly investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Justice and the Senate Ethics Committee.

But given that Congress’ first obligation is to the American people and that serving that obligation so often requires having more knowledge than ordinary American investors, why should members of Congress be permitted to trade individual stocks at all? Why should we expect them to even be capable when making business decisions of separating what they know as a result of their governmental job and what they might otherwise know as private individuals?

As recent events make clear, any trading by members of Congress can undermine confidence in government and our democracy. If we want members of Congress to focus on their work rather than their personal wealth, we should consider whether allowing them to be active traders of public-company stock, or even active participants in significant outside business activities, reflects the priorities the American people rightly demand of public servants.

Members of Congress often have information that can mean millions, or even billions of dollars to market participants. Should they knowingly be misappropriating that information for themselves, their families, or their friends? Of course not. But it’s also unreasonable to expect members of Congress to pretend to not know something.

The STOCK Act is a useful tool to combat corruption, but it isn’t sufficient. Stock trading isn’t the only way that members of Congress could be misusing the material, nonpublic information they learn. Information can also be valuable in real estate transactions, for example. Congress should consider prohibiting significant outside business activities for all members, and limit any securities trading to diversified funds, with all trades first precleared by an appropriate ethics office. That kind of process is common at investment banks and other firms where employees are often in possession of material, nonpublic information. Many compliance officers at companies like those sometimes even conclude that insiders ought to be prohibited from trading in entire industries. We should expect at least as much of members of Congress.

The oath of office for a U.S. senator includes the pledge, “I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.” Those duties aren’t to their personal financial interests—but to us.