The new U.S. senator for Georgia, and former CEO of bitcoin derivatives exchange Bakkt, sold between $1.3 million and $3.2 million in stock following a private Senate briefing on COVID-19.
Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and husband Jeffrey Sprecher, the founder and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), which owns the New York Stock Exchange as well as Bakkt, made a total of 29 transactions in the weeks after the Jan. 24 briefing, the Daily Beast reports.
In a statement, ICE said Loeffler and Sprecher “have made clear that those transactions were executed by their financial advisors without Mr. Sprecher’s or Senator Loeffler’s input or direction,” and that the trades complied with company policies.
According to the Senate Financial Disclosures website, the two sold shares in Resideo Technologies, Exxon Mobile, Ross Stores, Tencent and Delta Airlines, among other companies. The transaction values ranged from $1,001 to $500,000. The total sales sum up to a small fraction of her net worth ($500 million).
Loeffler and Sprecher both jointly bought shares of Citrix, which offers a teleworking product, and Oracle. The two individually also bought shares of the Blackstone Real Estate Investment Trust.
“Appreciate today’s briefing from the President’s top health officials on the novel coronavirus outbreak,” Loeffler tweeted soon after the briefing. In the ensuing weeks, she took to Twitter to suggest the threat of the virus was being exaggerated by the Democrats.
Just last week, before the major sell-off, Loeffler, who has an estimated net worth of $500 million, tweeted to assure citizens that a strong economy and response by the administration meant the U.S. was in a “strong position” to handle the coronavirus outbreak.
Although Loeffler’s office had not responded to the Daily Beast’s requests for comment, she denied the reports on Twitter, calling them “a ridiculous and baseless attack.” Her portfolio was managed by someone else, “without my or my husband’s knowledge or involvement,” she claimed, and she had informed the Senate Ethics Committee when she became aware of changes in her investments.
Loeffler said she was not aware of the sales until Feb. 16, after many had already been conducted. While her initial disclosure was filed on Feb. 7, the amended version was filed on March 12.
It is illegal for members of Congress to trade based on non-public information gained from their public roles. An ICE spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
This is the second time concerns have been raised about Loeffler. In early January, she was appointed to the committee that oversees the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), just weeks after resigning as CEO of Bakkt.
Being a bitcoin warehouse hoping to offer derivatives products with its parent firm, Bakkt needed to be approved by the CFTC. An annual report from her husband’s exchange group noted that many of its holdings were “subject to extensive regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.”
Responding to concerns there was a conflict of interest, Loeffler told the Wall Street Journal at the time she had tried to comply with the Senate’s ethics rules and would recuse herself on a case by case basis.
Fellow Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, has also come under fire for selling anywhere between $500,00 to $1.5 million in stock holdings just before markets tanked in February, the Center for Responsive Politics reported. Burr asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review his sales on Friday.
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