While ordinary people who hoard essential supplies and try to price-gouge during troubled times are rightly condemned, when it comes to making a quick buck those people are pikers compared to the profiteering of already wealthy politicians.
Republican senator Richard Burr faced demands to resign on Friday after it was reported that he sold off millions of dollars’ worth of stocks just before the market dropped amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic.
Burr and his wife sold between around $628,000 and $1.7m in more than 30 separate transactions in late January and mid-February, ProPublica and the Center for Responsive Politics reported. Several of the stocks were in companies that own hotels.
The three other senators known to have sold off substantial holdings just before the market dropped were Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, whose husband is cthe hairman of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), Democrat Dianne Feinstein, of California, and Republican Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma.
Others who have had access to this inside information have also made trades that benefited themselves.
The trades show that — as much of the public was blindsided by both the pandemic and the economic meltdown over the last two weeks — a number of lawmakers, aides and their brokers helping manage their portfolios adjusted their investments. Lawmakers in both chambers were being briefed via both classified and non-classified meetings about the coronavirus in late January and February, giving people on Capitol Hill a closer look at how the coming pandemic might shape their lives and finances that much of the country was lacking.
“The reality is that if you work on the Hill, or you work in government, you have access to information that the public doesn’t have or, if they have it, they can’t always see the signal through the noise,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of the watchdog group Issue One. “If you’re on the HELP Committee, you’re going to grasp threats much faster than the general public. You see things much more clearly.”
This article describes what information members of Congress were given in private briefings and when.
Then, three days later, in a private briefing [on January 24], Trump administration officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department told a group of senators that they were growing increasingly concerned about a virus spreading throughout China. The administration first learned of the outbreak Jan. 3, officials have now said. But by the time they convened with lawmakers for the briefing, the novel coronavirus had killed 41 people and infected more than 1,200.
According to two individuals with knowledge of the briefing, officials stressed to senators that the coronavirus was contagious, deadly, and would eventually spread beyond China’s borders to the U.S., at which point it would pose serious challenges for the political system and the economy.
“It was clear that there would be significant economic effects,” an individual with knowledge of the all-senators briefing said, adding that during the briefing lawmakers pressed for the administration to come up with a plan to handle the economic fallout.
That politicians exploit the information that they are privy to is not new.
Studies in 2004 and 2011 showed members of the House and Senate’ stocks outperformed the market by 6% annually and 12% annually, respectively. Under Barack Obama, Congress passed a law to prevent members from using inside information to profit, but critics say those measures are riddled with loopholes.
Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics, posted: “Investigation is needed to find out if laws were broken by senatorial stock dumps. But whether or not they were, we have politicians in the government’s inner circle protecting their interests as the storm closed in on regular Americans who will do the suffering and the dying.”
More surprisingly Tucker Carlson, a host on conservative Fox News, joined in the calls for Burr to step down. “Maybe there is an honest explanation for what he did,” Carlson told viewers. “If there is, he should share it with the rest of us immediately. Otherwise he must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading.
“There is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis. And that appears to be what happened.”
These people are shameless.