Reports say Perdue sought to boost campaign donors and company in which he purchased stock

11/20/2020 �  Canton, Georgia �Senator David Perdue (left) and Senator Kelly Loeffler (right) exchange a high-five as they take turns speaking to the crowd gathered during a Defend the Majority Republican Rally in Canton, Ga., Friday, November 20, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
11/20/2020 � Canton, Georgia �Senator David Perdue (left) and Senator Kelly Loeffler (right) exchange a high-five as they take turns speaking to the crowd gathered during a Defend the Majority Republican Rally in Canton, Ga., Friday, November 20, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Sen. David Perdue faced fresh questions this week about whether he used his position in Washington to try to secure lucrative tax breaks for pro sports owners and to boost a defense contractor in which he had purchased stock.

The revelations came in separate reports by national media outlets and renewed focus on questions that have followed the Georgia Republican this election year. Perdue’s campaign said he’s done nothing wrong.

ProPublica, a non-profit news outlet, on Friday reported that Perdue has collected more than $425,000 in campaign contributions from pro sports owners and their families, including from fellow Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, according to campaign finance records. Loeffler is a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA.

Last year, Perdue privately pressed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to try to help pro sports owners benefit from a tax break in the 2017 tax bill pushed by President Trump, according to the ProPublica report.

Mnuchin’s agency helped draft rules for how the bill would be implemented and carried out, but owners of pro sports teams were excluded from a narrow provision that offered up to a 20 percent tax deduction for pass-through businesses and certain types of income. Perdue drafted a letter on Jan. 23, 2019, noting his concern about implementation and urging Mnuchin to reconsider.

“The Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball has submitted extensive comments on these regulations during the public comment period that further explain the proper application of the Section 199A deduction to owners of professional sports clubs,” Perdue wrote.

Ultimately, Perdue’s effort failed to persuade the Treasury to change the rules.

His campaign told the AJC there was nothing wrong with the request and that Perdue has a unique perspective on the sports industry because he is the former CEO of Reebok athletic brand.

“The Treasury probably received hundreds if not thousands of comments on this rule-making and ultimately decided to take a different approach,” Perdue campaign spokesman John Burke told the AJC.

But these types of behind-the-scenes maneuvers that are all too common in Washington can impact the public’s view of who politicians are really serving, said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a non-partisan Washington group that focuses on money in politics, lobbying and campaign finance reform.

“It’s really where the rubber hits the road, where the donor money comes into play,” she said. “It leads to this speculation about motive and it undermines the decision he is making, or any public official is making.”

On Wednesday, a report in The Daily Beast detailed Perdue’s role on a powerful Senate subcommittee that has oversight of the U.S. Navy. It detailed his influence in the military budgeting process that benefited a submarine contractor in which Perdue had invested.

In the weeks before he became chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower in January 2019, Perdue started purchasing stock totaling up to $190,000 in BWX Technologies, a Virginia-based firm with millions in contracts to develop high-tech components for the Navy’s nuclear submarines.

Over the ensuing months, as Perdue helped shape the military’s funding benchmarks, the stock’s price rose and Perdue sold shares at a profit, the Daily Beast reported. His 2019 disclosure statements show he reported earnings between $15,000 and $50,000 in the BWX trades that year.

The story echoed questions Perdue faced earlier this year about stock trades. In May, he announced that his portfolio would no longer include individual company stocks after he and other members of Congress faced criticism that they benefited from stock trades based on inside information during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. He denied any wrongdoing and his campaign says multiple outside reviews have cleared him.

His campaign said the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Ethics have reviewed the matter and found he did nothing wrong. They note that all his stock transactions are disclosed in regular filings with the Senate. The campaign criticized the new story as more of the same.

“This is a desperate attempt by left-wing blogs and Democratic operatives to revisit an issue that has been asked, answered and settled,” Burke said. “These attacks have been tried, and they failed because they are false. David Perdue doesn’t manage his trades or retirement funds — they are handled by outside financial advisers.”

Still, his Senate challenger Jon Ossoff seized on the story to again attack Perdue, as he has for stock trades in the past.

“He is blatantly exploiting his office to line his own pockets,” Ossoff said. “This conduct is utterly inexcusable.”

Ossoff said members of Congress should place their investments in qualified blind trusts, something he has pledged to do if he’s elected. Only a handful of Senators currently utilize blind trusts.

McGehee, the government reform advocate, said it’s not a partisan issue as both sides have run into difficulty over the years with questions about investments. She said blind trusts are an easy way to “take the issue off the table.”

“It doesn’t require drastic action,” she said. “It is firewall that both protects you as a politician and helps build public trust.”

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