Martha Allen takes advantage of Kroger's new shopping hours for seniors over 60 Monday in Decatur, March 23 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: Schaefer
Photo: Schaefer

The Jolt: What we know versus what they know

Over the weekend, the Kelly Loeffler campaign strove to tamp down the national eruption over stock transactions she and other U.S. senators made as the nation’s economy headed toward a chasm.

For instance, we received a spreadsheet that confirmed Loeffler and her spouse, who is CEO of the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange, indeed made 27 sales transactions, with sales proceeds of $1.8 million, from Jan. 24 to Feb. 14.

But to counter those who said Loeffler and her husband were fleeing the market, the campaign also pointed out eight stock purchases valued at $1.5 million, and eight “put offer” sales that might have made the couple an extra $1.1 million had they not sold them so early.

But the spreadsheet didn’t include -- they will show up in Senate disclosures next month -- another set of transactions registered by the Securities and Exchange Commission. CBS News reported on those Friday night:

Jeffrey Sprecher, who is the husband of Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, on February 26 sold $3.5 million in shares of ICE, as the exchange is called, at an average price of $93.42 each, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Since then, ICE shares have plunged nearly 25% amid a broader downdraft in stocks.

Sprecher and Loeffler also sold $15.3 million worth of ICE shares on March 11, at an average price of around $87, SEC filings show.

Loeffler made numerous appearances on cable TV news programs over the weekend. When questioned by a Bloomberg journalist, for instance, the senator from Georgia reiterated that a “third-party” financial expert made the decisions without her knowledge or input, but added one bit of detail of “an employee in our personal family office that intermediates.”

Loeffler’s most important interview of the weekend was with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who days earlier had demanded an explanation – or a resignation – from U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who has also been accused of unloading stock.

Carlson accepted Loeffler’s statement that she didn’t know of the early transactions until Feb. 16, but pointed to a March 10 video from Loeffler in which she boasted of the strength of the U.S. economy. Said Carlson:

“You said you spent all these years in business and you notice that they’re dumping retail, for example. People weren’t doing that. Some were, but most weren’t. And then you issued a video saying the economy’s totally fine. In retrospect, do you think maybe you should have hinted that maybe it’s not fine, obviously. Just by your portfolio sheet, you know that, right?”

Loeffler’s best reply:

“Heading into March, none of us knew where we would stand on March 20. We are where we are today. We need to turn our focus to the American people. People are hurting. They’re wondering about their jobs.”

Loeffler’s top GOP rival is U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. On Saturday, he was interviewed on Newsmax.com, a highly conservative outlet.

Collins focused not on the legality or illegality of what Loeffler did, but on the appearances of the transactions. Said Collins:

“There’s a lot more explaining to do, a lot more investigation to do. …For those of us who are trying to work and for those of us like myself, my wife, my family – we don’t own stock. We’re like most Americans. We have a little bit of a 401(k) or a savings program.

“Even if everything was proven okay, that’s not a good look. It’s not what the American people are looking for. It just doesn’t seem right. And there’s not been a good explanation for it, especially on Senator Loeffler’s part.”

Your Insiders have more details on reaction to Loeffler’s situation here. They include this from House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, a Collins ally who is trying to beat back a Democratic surge in his chamber:

“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.”

Another troubling side for her campaign’s future over the weekend: The Senate Leadership Fund, the establishment-backed GOP group that spent more than $1 million boosting Loeffler’s campaign, let it be known that it had temporarily pulled its advertising for her. A spokesman attributed it to the pandemic, adding that it should not be a surprise it was rolling back political marketing during a crisis. 

Collins’s aides read it differently. “McConnell’s folks wanted to abandon ship while there were still life jackets left,” said spokesman Dan McLagan. 

***

Last week, our AJC colleague Michael Kanell reported on a surge in unemployment claims that had overwhelmed the state Department of Labor website. He reached out to Kersha Cartwright:

Cartwright said the state was not ready to release exact figures yet on the increase in filings. But, she added, “We are seeing as many claims filed in a day as we usually see in a week.”

Which required Kanell to do some math:

The most recent public data showed 5,538 Georgia claims filed during the week ending Feb. 29. That implies more than 27,000 people requested unemployment benefits this week.

That same day, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported that an email sent from the Labor Department has instructed state officials to do nothing more than “provide information using generalities to describe claims levels (very high, large increase)” until the department releases the total number of national claims next Thursday.

That means you won’t know exactly how many Georgians filed unemployment claims last week until after 8:30 a.m. Thursday. So I called Cartwright to see if Georgia would comply. She said yes. I asked her for a copy of that email from U.S. Labor Department administrator Gay Gilbert.

Cartwright said she would look for it, then sent a note back saying the email didn’t exist. And that Georgia was operating under a directive dating to 1993.

It is standard policy of GDOL that we not release any information until after the USDOL releases their information. This has been the case since 1993. It is a request, not a demand. But Cartwright said her department would comply.

But if the information is under lock and key, how will Gov. Brian Kemp know what’s going on? 

***

Already posted: Gov. Brian Kemp is coming under increasing pressure to order businesses shut down:

“We need Governor Kemp to act now, the point of ‘no return’ for Georgia is rapidly closing,” said Carlos del Rio, the chair of the Department of Global Health Studies at Emory University. “To prevent a catastrophe in the healthcare system due to Covid-19, we need for him to shut down Georgia now.”

….A tracking document obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows roughly 100 cities have adopted measures to respond to the outbreak, though those range widely from delaying council meetings to mandatory curfews.

House Speaker David Ralston has become among the state’s first GOP leaders to advocate for a shelter-in-place order as the state rapidly reaches what he called a “tipping point.”

However, there appears to be a tug-of-war with in the White House, between public health experts and economy-minded epublicans who think the cure might be worse than the disease: From President Donald Trump’s Twitter account his morning:

“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15 day period, we will make a decision which way we want to go!”

How this might impact calls for Kemp to issue more restrictions on movement in Georgia is unclear. Here’s the chart that public health officials are pointing to if he doesn’t:

***

Four Georgia state senators have now contracted the disease caused by coronavirus, including Nikema Williams, who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia. Three Republicans have been diagnosed with the virus: Brandon Beach of Alpahretta, Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta, and Butch Thompson of White. Catch up on the weekend news here.

***

There is still no deal on legislation that would comprise phase three of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Senate Democrats late Sunday blocked a procedural vote on the newest bill, saying it still did not have enough resources to assist working families affected by quarantines, business shutdowns

Georgia’s two senators have each tried to help the bill along by supporting their Republican leadership. Perdue is pushing an amendment to add in a payroll tax cut, would give all working Americans a 6% pay raise and save businesses money. Although President Donald Trump had floated this idea, Democrats are cool to the idea of a tax decrease.

Loeffler in remarks on the Senate floor Sunday urged her colleagues to support the bill, known as the CARES Act, in its current form. Of course, that didn’t happen. 

Senate Democrats have refused to support the measure thus far, saying it rescues out companies without enough protections for workers and doesn’t include enough money for medical facilities or local governments.

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