Loeffler sold $46,027 worth of stock in an online travel company in the day preceding President Trump’s March 11 announcement of a ban on most European travel to the United States.
Another day, another report of millionaire Sen. Kelly Loeffler dumping stocks of struggling companies at opportune times amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Loeffler, a Republican from Georgia, sold a total of $46,027 worth of stock in online travel company Booking Holdings in the 24 hours preceding President Donald Trump’s March 11 announcement of a ban on most European travel to the United States. Loeffler’s transactions were first reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and her sale of travel company stocks was first scrutinized by Bloomberg News.
The transactions were small given Loeffler and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, CEO of Intercontinental Exchange—the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange—are worth more than an estimated $500 million. What was noteworthy about the sale, however, was that it came just days after the couple first purchased the stock on March 6.
Booking Holdings provides online bookings for flights, hotels, and other travel-related services, and the company’s value has plummeted as the travel industry has collapsed amid the coronavirus outbreak. Between the time Loeffler and her husband purchased their shares and sold them, the company’s value dropped 11%. Loeffler and her husband sold their shares on March 10 and 11, and Trump announced his European travel ban after the markets closed on March 11. On the very next day, March 12, Booking Holdings lost 12% of its value.
Loeffler herself provided the specific details of the sales to the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Wednesday in an effort to stave off a fresh round of insider trading allegations. Loeffler and her fellow Republican Sen. Richard Burr last month faced a wave of backlash and calls for their resignations after it was revealed they dumped millions in stocks after receiving confidential government briefings on the coronavirus.
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The 2012 STOCK Act makes it illegal for senators to use information not available to the public for financial gain, and critics have accused the senators of violating the law and using their insider knowledge to save themselves millions of dollars all while downplaying the virus’ risks to their constituents. Both Burr and Loeffler denied engaging in any wrongdoing, but Burr asked the Senate Ethics Committee to conduct a review of the matter. Loeffler, however, did not.
The Georgia senator has said that her investment portfolio is managed by third-party advisors who don’t notify her of transactions until after they occur, but has declined to identify who these advisors are. She has also repeatedly dismissed the focus on her finances as smears and “politically motivated attacks.”
“These transactions are consistent with historical portfolio activity and include a balanced mix of buys and sells,” her spokesman Stephen Lawson told Bloomberg.
Loeffler’s sale of her Booking Holdings shares wasn’t the only noteworthy transaction reported this week. The senator also dumped at least $18.7 million of stock in Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), the company where Loeffler used to work and where her husband, Sprecher, still works. Loeffler’s sales came in three separate deals dated Feb. 26 and March 11.
By selling off a sizable chunk of her portfolio, Loeffler has potentially saved herself millions of dollars as the markets have cratered in recent weeks. Meanwhile, 10 million American workers have filed for unemployment in the past two weeks and thousands are struggling to pay their rent.
Loeffler’s campaign told the Atlanta Journal Constitution the ICE stock sales were prearranged and part of her and her husband’s compensation package. The couple also sold $845,557 in stock from 13 companies, including a sell-off of more than $150,000 in stocks of several retail stores—including Ross, T.J. Maxx, and Lululemon—that have seen their businesses collapse during the coronavirus pandemic. But Loeffler and her husband sold off some of the same retail stocks in late January, before the market collapsed, and also sold shares of companies like Facebook, which haven’t been affected by the pandemic.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the couple also purchased $590,557 in stock from six companies from mid-February to mid-March, including more than $200,000 in chemical giant DuPont across four transactions in late February and early March. DuPont has struggled in the markets, but the company also manufactures desperately needed personal protective equipment for hospitals and medical workers.
Despite Loeffler’s attempts at transparency, the perception of the wealthiest member of Congress dumping stocks of companies most affected by the pandemic continues to pose problems. By Friday morning, there was a fresh batch of criticism and calls for her resignation.
Even Fox News host Tucker Carlson criticized Loeffler and also called for her to face a federal investigation.
“If she knew about these trades … she should leave office,” Carlson said on Thursday night. “She claims she only learned about the trades after they happen. She denies insider trading, and good. Then she should welcome a federal investigation into all of this.”
That investigation could be coming. The Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission are now investigating stock transactions by lawmakers, CNN reported on Monday. But it’s unclear whether their investigation includes Loeffler. Her staff has said she has yet to be contacted.
Loeffler, the newest member of the Senate, was appointed to finish the remainder of former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term in December by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. She is now running for re-election and faces a challenge from Republican Rep. Doug Collins in the state’s “jungle primary” on Nov. 3.