It’s illegal for members of Congress to trade on non-public information gleaned through their official duties, but some elected officials have have attracted unwanted attention for dumping stock shortly before the market crashed.
The data is listed on a U.S. Senate website showing financial disclosures from members of the Senate.
The Senate’s newest member, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), sold off $1.275 million-to-$3.1 million worth of stock holdings in a spate of trades between Jan. 24 and Feb. 14 in the days and weeks after a private, all-senators meeting on the coronavirus that subsequently slammed U.S. equities, Daily Beast reported. The 15 stocks that Loeffler reported selling have lost on average more than a third of their value.
The wealthiest member of Congress, Atlanta businesswoman Loeffler has a fortune estimated at $500 million. The stock she sold is jointly owned with her husband, according to transaction reports filed with Senate ethics officials.
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The senator’s husband is Jeffrey Sprecher, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.
Loeffler reported the first sale on Jan. 24, the same day the senator sat in on a coronavirus briefing from two members of Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force — the CDC director and Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“Appreciate today’s briefing from the President’s top health officials on the novel coronavirus outbreak,” Loeffler tweeted at the time.
In the weeks after her spate of stock trades, Loeffler downplayed the public-health and financial threats posed by the coronavirus. On Feb. 28, she blamed Democrats for misinforming the public on the coronavirus. “Democrats have dangerously and intentionally misled the American people on #Coronavirus readiness,” she tweeted.
Loeffler did not respond when The Daily Beast asked if her transactions were prompted or informed by information shared at that late January briefing.
Later she tweeted in her own defense, blaming someone else for her trading. “This is a ridiculous and baseless attack. I do not make investment decisions for my portfolio. Investment decisions are made by multiple third-party advisors without my or my husband’s knowledge or involvement.
“As confirmed in the periodic transaction report to Senate Ethics, I was informed of these purchases and sales on February 16, 2020—three weeks after they were made.”
Loeffler was appointed as a senator in December by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp after incumbent Sen. Johnny Isakson resigned due to health problems. Trump allies had urged Kemp to select Rep. Doug Collins instead.
“From the beginning of her tenure, she has faced scrutiny over potential conflicts of interest,” Daily Beast reported. “Her position on a Senate subcommittee that oversees futures markets ‘gives Kelly Loeffler a direct position in overseeing her and her husband’s financial enterprises,’ Craig Holman, lobbyist for the ethics group Public Citizen, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution in February. ‘I find it utterly irresponsible the Senate would choose to put Loeffler on that committee, given her conflicts of interest.'”
Other senators identified for dumping stock shortly before the market crashed include Republicans Richard Burr of North Carolina and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California.
Head of the intelligence committee, Burr had access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to U.S. security. Burr’s selloff came soon after assuring the public that the government was ready to fight the coronavirus, and around the same time he was receiving daily briefings on the health threat, ProPublica reported.
Burr sold off between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions. A week after his sales, the stock started falling and has lost about 30 percent since.
Inhofe also blamed others for his investment decisions, according to FoxNews. The senator sold as much as $400,000 in stock on Jan. 27, The New York Times reported. In a written statement, Inhofe said he was not at the late January briefing and has no involvement in investment choices.
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“The New York Times allegations are completely baseless and 100 percent false,” Inhofe said. “I was not at the briefing on January 24. I was meeting with pro-life kids from Oklahoma here for the March for Life and the new nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania. I do not have any involvement in my investment decisions.”
Feinstein, a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and her husband sold between $1.5 million and $6 million in stock between Jan. 31 and Feb. 18, The New York Times reported.
Feinstein tweeted in her own defense, saying she has no control over her assets and the stocks were her husband’s transactions, according to Fox.