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Kelly Loeffler faces new controversy about her pre-Senate payout

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks during a campaign rally in March in Marietta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks during a campaign rally in March in Marietta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler often says she gave up a lucrative career to serve as Gov. Brian Kemp’s appointee in Washington.

On the way out the door, however, her company gave her a huge payday, The New York Times reports. Intercontinental Exchange altered the parameters of Loeffler's compensation package and allowed her to cash in on stock options even though she resigned months before the original vestment date, the Times said.

The change made the Republican about $9 million richer and was in addition to her $3.6 million salary. Loeffler’s husband, Jeff Sprecher, is the founder and CEO of the company, also known as ICE.

“It looks, feels and has the sweet aroma of a pure windfall,” one executive compensation consultant told the Times.

Loeffler, via a spokesperson, declined to comment.

Although this type of deal is both legal and does not break any Senate rules, news of its existence fueled a new round of criticism from Loeffler’s critics on both sides of the aisle. They accused her of being more concerned about enriching herself and protecting the family empire than she is about serving the people of Georgia.

“It’s a great investment by ICE in the newest member of their federal oversight board who writes the laws that govern their operations,” said Dan McLagan, a campaign spokesman for Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who is running against Loeffler in November’s special election.

Loeffler is a member of the Senate's Agriculture Committee, which among other things has oversight of the regulators who oversee commodities markets such as the ones owned by ICE. One of the company's most visible entities is the New York Stock Exchange.

She announced Wednesday night that she had stepped down from the Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade. When Senate leaders appointed her to the panel, observers noted its oversight role of exchanges such as those owned by ICE.

Loeffler promised at the time to recuse herself on a case-by-case basis. She blamed the media and “adversaries” for her decision to resign.

Her ties with ICE made her a wealthy woman, but they have also become an issue in the campaign where she also faces a well-funded Democrat in the Rev. Raphael Warnock.

She has also been dogged by allegations of insider trading that stem from stock transactions made on her behalf during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Loeffler said she did nothing wrong, she and her husband later sold nearly all their shares in individual companies to avoid perceived conflicts of interest.

Except they kept their shares in ICE.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has endorsed Warnock, said the new details about extra compensation from ICE that Loeffler received are another example of her “shady” and “unethical” behavior. A spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia said the deal creates new concerns about conflicts of interest that warrant investigation.

American Democracy Legal Fund President Brad Woodhouse, a Democratic Party activist, said that the Securities and Exchange Commission should investigate.

“Senator Kelly Loeffler’s compensation deal with her husband’s publicly traded company doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said in a statement. “It raises serious questions on whether Senator Loeffler received this highly unusual golden parachute as a favor she would then repay to her former employer in her new position as a United States Senator.”

The weeks of criticism have taken a toll on Loeffler's campaign. The political news organization CQ Roll Call recently said she is one of the 10 senators most at risk of being voted out.

“Loeffler’s campaign has been reeling since the March revelation that she sold $20 million in stocks after attending a closed-door coronavirus briefing,” Roll Call said. “She has tried to control the damage, but the scandal could boost GOP Rep. Doug Collins in the November special election in which candidates from all parties run on the same ballot.”

Loeffler, in Washington this week for votes, declined via a spokeswoman to grant The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s request for an interview. Instead, her campaign sent an email resurfacing old statements about the sacrifices she made for a career in public service.

“Kelly Loeffler,” the statement said, “was a business leader and job creator who left the career she built to serve and to deliver results for the people of Georgia as a political outsider in Washington.”

Read more: Kelly Loeffler outlines millions in assets in financial disclosures

Also: Atlanta owner of New York Stock Exchange profits amid pandemic turmoil