Would you vote for a senator who sold a stock likely to tank after getting a senators-only briefing on a coming pandemic? How about one who told you the pandemic was no big deal while buying shares in a company that sells body bags?
Both Republican incumbents in Georgia’s crucial runoffs, that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, were investigated this year for allegedly engaging in pandemic-related insider trading.
The two are the Senate’s wealthiest member, Kelly Loeffler, appointed in 2019 and running for a full term of her own, and its seventh wealthiest member, David Perdue, a businessman sued for wage theft and discrimination while losing $150 million in two years as CEO of Dollar General.
After the notorious briefing, Loeffler, who joined Trump in dismissing the pandemic, and her husband, who almost never trades to avoid conflict with his job as chair of the Intercontinental Stock Exchange, made 27 trades worth between $1.2 and $3.1 million that helped them weather the virus-triggered crash. On the same day, Perdue began accumulating $825,000 worth of stock in DuPont, a company that makes personal protective equipment and body bags, and sold an equal amount of other stocks in over a hundred other transactions. He’d already raised eyebrows when as a member of the Senate’s cybersecurity subcommittee, he promoted FireEye, a cybersecurity firm in which he held $250,000 worth of stock, a fraction of his 2,596 trades since joining the Senate. It makes you wonder when he has time to legislate and why Martha Stewart, who prepared the country to bake sourdough bread as a hedge against insanity, will be remembered for going to jail over one trade.
Bill Barr’s Justice Department and the Senate Ethics Committee, so-called, both ended their investigations into the suspiciously timed trades. The only investigation for insider trading that remains open just happens to be against a senator who’s retired.
But while Washington has turned a blind eye, Georgians have not. During the Republican primary, the candidate Trump backed, former Rep. Doug Collins, said he was “sickened” by Loeffler “profiting off the pain” of COVID victims. Whenever it comes up, Loeffler talks about her humble beginnings growing soybeans. In the general election, Perdue’s opponent, Democrat Jon Ossoff, got off the ground when he ripped through the accusations at their first debate and Perdue just stared ahead, speechless. Rather than endure that again, there’s been an empty podium at subsequent debates where Perdue would be if he could muster a defense.
On Monday, the final day of campaigning, President-elect Biden will try to help get Democrats Ossoff and Raphael Warnock over the top while President Trump, taking time from his exhausting schedule of golfing, pardoning his friends and pushing through the most federal executions since 1896, will try to un-depress turnout after two months of bitter complaints about how Georgia’s Republican officials supposedly allowed Biden to steal the election from him. The charge was supported by little more than a purported eyewitness found by Rudy Giuliani who was actually a temp who wiped down computer screens for one day at one polling place. Weeks of Trump telling voters the “system is rigged,” GOP strategist Frank Luntz told Fox, is having “a debilitating impact on whether his people will vote.” He’s right. Why bother if a gremlin named Roy Raffensberger—the Republican Secretary of State’s imaginary brother in Trump’s warped mind—is going to eat your ballot?
On New Year’s Eve in the pouring rain, early voters in Cobb County were standing in a line two football fields long telling reporters they would be staying for a long as it took to vote. It’s a race that will decide whether Mitch McConnell remains majority leader or lives out what’s likely his last term under the thumb of Chuck Schumer, and if the pandemic some profited from will finally be treated like the threat to the country it is.
Perdue and Leoffler got off for now. Of course they did. The legislation supposed to stop insider trading largely sets up disclosure rules that do little to stop inside trading since members of Congress are by definition insiders. That’s so obvious that uber-capitalist Republican Sen. John Cornyn said that the only way to deal with the problem is to prohibit members from trading stocks altogether.
Or to send those that game the system packing. Nothing gets a senator’s attention like a colleague paying a price for forgetting why he’s there.