200302-ATLANTA-U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) is introduced by Gov. Brian Kemp after qualifying to run for the U.S. Senate Monday morning March 2, 2020 at the Georgia State Capitol. BenGray.com / Special
Photo: Ben@bengray.com/Ben Gray
Photo: Ben@bengray.com/Ben Gray

Loeffler faces backlash over stock trades after coronavirus briefing

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler faced immediate political backlash after the disclosure that she sold up to $3.1 million in stocks shortly after attending a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic.

Georgia Democrats quickly called on Loeffler to step down and accused her of profiteering from her position. And Republican allies of her top conservative adversary, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, openly worried about the fallout of her stock sales.

House Speaker David Ralston, a longtime Collins friend, said in an interview Friday that he’s heard from “upset” House candidates concerned that the Republican ticket will get tainted in November by Loeffler’s financial dealings. 

“I’m absolutely worried about the down-ticket damage,” said Ralston. “A lot of people are going to associate these activities with some very fine candidates running for the Georgia House and are going to hold that against us.”

At least one Republican candidate went a step further. Mark Gonsalves, a Republican candidate running for Georgia’s 7th District, said “with a heavy heart” he was forced to call for Loeffler’s resignation.  

More: Loeffler among senators whose stock trading raises questions

“Taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic for personal financial gain is an alarming lack of judgement that renders her unfit to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate,” he said. 

March 2, 2020 - Atlanta - Congressman Doug Collins, R-Ga., talks with the media after he signed in at the Secretary of States office to qualify for the special election to fill Sen. Johnny Isakson's former seat. A large turnout by both Democrats and Republicans on the first day of election qualifying resulted in long lines of politicians waiting to sign in. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com

Loeffler’s stock sell-off was first analyzed in a report by Daily Beast, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also looked into her disclosures.

A former financial executive who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp in December, Loeffler said in a statement she wasn’t aware of many of the transactions until weeks after they occurred and called the media reports 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.” 

‘Sickened’

Loeffler won’t have to face the voters until a November special election, which pits her against 20 challengers to fill out the remaining two years of retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term. A January runoff is likely.

But the fallout could be heightened because she faces tough competition from within her party, making it more difficult for Republicans to rally around Loeffler. 

Collins, a four-term Gainesville congressman, has long painted Loeffler as a flimsy conservative intent on using her deep personal wealth to secure her Senate seat. He seemed certain to use stock trades to further that narrative through November.

“People are losing their jobs, their businesses, their retirements, and even their lives and Kelly Loeffler is profiting off their pain?” said Collins. “I'm sickened just thinking about it.”

12/04/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Newly appointed U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler (right) listens as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (left) speaks during a press conference in his office at the Georgia State Capitol Building, Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Kelly Loeffler to the U.S. Senate to take the place of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down for health reasons. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

‘Honorable people’

Her Democratic opponents used scathing terms, too, to pummel Loeffler. The Rev. Raphael Warnock, the establishment-backed Democrat, said Loeffler’s financial decisions were “unconscionable.”

“As the coronavirus pandemic is busy taking lives and livelihoods, Kelly Loeffler has been busy looking out for herself,” said Warnock, who has largely avoided directly criticizing the incumbent. 

Two other prominent Democratic candidates sharply criticized the stock sell-offs.

Ed Tarver, a former federal prosecutor, said her actions were “downright wrong and everything that’s wrong with Washington.” And Matt Lieberman, an entrepreneur who is the son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman, called it "shameful.”

“The fact is that Georgia deserves a U.S. Senator who will put the health and well-being of our country first,” said Lieberman. “Sadly, these events have proven that Senator Loeffler puts profits over people.”

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, stayed on the sidelines. 

Asked at a press conference about the stock trading by Loeffler and other U.S. senators, the Republican said he wasn’t aware of the specifics but that the lawmakers were “all very honorable people.” 

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