Senate ethics panel dismisses insider trading complaints against Loeffler

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler arrives with President Donald Trump at Dobbins Air Reserve Base when the president came to Atlanta to visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The U.S. Senate Ethics Committee has dismissed complaints from watchdog groups questioning whether Sen. Kelly Loeffler engaged in “potential insider trading” after reviewing recent stock trades made on her behalf.

The committee “did not find evidence that your actions violated federal law, Senate rules, or standards of contact,” Deborah Sue Mayer, the committee’s chief counsel, wrote to Loeffler. “Accordingly, consistent with its precedent, the committee has dismissed this matter.”

The dismissal of the complaints, filed by Common Cause and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, comes weeks after the Department of Justice also closed an investigation into Loeffler's stock transactions, leading her  supporters to declare "vindication."

The newly appointed Republican's portfolio came under scrutiny when a large number of stocks that she or her husband owned were sold off shortly after she attended a senators-only coronavirus briefing Jan. 24.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, one of 20 candidates challenging her in a November special election, and other critics have seized on the investigation to try to cast Loeffler as a greedy insider who put her financial bottom line over her duty to the public. Loeffler has said that the meeting included no private information and that all stock trading on her behalf is handled by financial advisers who act independently and without her input. And she denied that trading on her behalf had violated any laws or Senate rules.

Before joining the Senate, Loeffler worked for Intercontinental Exchange, the same company run by her husband, Jeff Sprecher. Collins and other rivals have accused her of conflicts of interest and said transactions during the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to have been informed by information obtained through her role as a senator.

Financial disclosures showed that Loeffler or her husband’s consultants sold off between $1.3 million and $3.1 million in stocks from Jan. 24 through Feb. 14, and made purchases of up to $250,000 each in Citrix, which provides work-from-home software, and Oracle, the computer technology firm.

The next month, the couple’s advisers sold an additional $845,557 in stock and made other purchases totaling $590,557. They obtained shares in chemical giant DuPont de Nemours, a major supplier of personal protective gear, while selling off shares in retail stores such as T.J. Maxx and Ross.

Common Cause and the other groups had asked the Ethics Committee to investigate Loeffler and a handful of other senators for possible violations of the STOCK Act, a law that prohibits senators from using inside information for financial gain.

In separate letters to the watchdog groups, Mayer said the committee reviewed stock transactions by Loeffler and Sprecher from early January and that it plans no further action after “carefully” evaluating the allegations.

Beth Rotman of Common Cause said the issue highlights the need for Congress to pass a law requiring its members to park their wealth in blind trusts while they are in office.

“Sen. Loeffler, together with other congresspeople, should have all of their stocks in blind trusts so that everyday Americans do not have to guess about whether their representatives are putting their own interests over the interests of their constituents,” said Rotman, the organization’s director of money in politics and ethics.

Loeffler initially refused to admit she was under investigation. In early May, she said she turned over documents to federal investigators. However, she would not say whether she had volunteered the information, was asked to supply it or if she had been questioned.

Loeffler and Sprecher have already taken steps to address the uproar about stock trading on their behalf. They directed their consultants to sell off stocks they own in individual companies and invest the money in exchange-traded and mutual funds. The couple still own millions of dollars in shares in Intercontinental Exchange, the Atlanta-based congolmerate that owns the New York Stock Exchange.

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