Democrats bet Perdue’s stock trades can sway runoff

Greg Nash

Democrats are betting big that Sen. David Perdue’s (R-Ga.) controversial record of trading stocks throughout the coronavirus pandemic are going to hurt him in the Georgia special election scheduled for Jan. 5.

The Perdue campaign says that charges the senator made trades based on insider information are “totally false” and claim he has been “exonerated’ by the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Senate Ethics Committee.

But Perdue’s claim earlier in the year that his personal finances were handled by an outside adviser were undercut by new reporting that he sold off a large stake in Cardlytics, a company for which he previously sat on the board, after receiving an email from the company’s CEO referring to “upcoming changes.”

Perdue’s stock trades have also received new scrutiny after The New York Times reported that he made 2,596 trades — in stocks, bonds and funds — during his first term in office, including in FireEye, a federal contractor that offers services to combat cybersecurity threats.

Democrats are hitting Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) hard on their stock trades in hopes of winning both runoffs and flipping control of the Senate next month.

The broader Democratic message is to highlight that Perdue and Loeffler are two of the richest members of Congress and reaped substantial financial gains at a time the economy was cratering and millions of Americans were losing their jobs.

“There’s been a lot of new information on Perdue in particular,” said a Washington-based Democratic strategist.

“There’s this growing problem for both Loeffler and Perdue that they’re two of the richest members of Congress at a time when the economy is hurting and they haven’t been able to deliver new economic relief to their constituents,” the strategist added.

The source pointed out the money the Perdue campaign is spending on a response ad as evidence that Republicans are worried about the negative effect.

Perdue and Loeffler are both on the ballot Jan. 5. Democrats must defeat them to win the Senate majority.

The big question heading into next month’s runoff is whether attacks on Perdue’s trading record, which Democrats highlighted before Nov. 3 as well, will significantly influence the race.

Jeffrey Lazarus, a professor of political science at Georgia State University, said, “my guess is that it’s not going to have a big impact.”

“It’s not like this is new news. It’s been public knowledge that he did some trading surrounding the pandemic, we’ve known that,” he said. “It’s back in the news a little bit, it’s already been a centerpiece of the campaign.

“My impression is that polarization is so high that it isn’t going to change anybody’s mind. The biggest impact it might have is that it might discourage a few Republican voters and make them less likely to cast their vote for [Perdue] but probably not very many,” he added.

Democratic strategists, however, think that hitting Perdue’s stock trades could have more traction in the runoff because there are fewer political stories competing for attention, with President Trump no longer on the ballot.

A Georgia-based Democratic strategist said the recent spate of stories about Perdue’s stock trades have given the issue new momentum in the race.

“It’s starting to pick up because the stories keep coming. I was a little skeptical of it as an issue,” said the strategist, who added that the Democratic messaging became more effective when it tied Perdue’s active stock trading with the weak federal response to the pandemic.

The Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC allied with Senate Democrats, announced this week it would expand its television reservations in the Georgia runoff by $5.5 million to air ads hitting Perdue and Loeffler on their stock trades.

The PAC has spent more than $10 million on the runoff. The group also spent $16 million in the general election in Georgia.

The ad focusing on Perdue highlights a recent New York Times report the FBI had investigated Perdue and a federal grand jury had reviewed possible insider trading charges.

The Times reported that Perdue turned over hundreds of pages of information in response to a grand jury subpoena and that his trades were also reviewed by the SEC.

The centerpiece of the report was Perdue’s sale of at least $1 million worth of stock in Cardlytics, a company that uses purchase data to target advertising, after receiving a personal email from the company’s CEO Scott Grimes in late January mentioning upcoming changes.

Investigators ultimately declined to bring charges after determining the trade was not based on significantly material inside information.

The new reporting calls into question a claim his campaign spokeswoman made in March to The Intercept that “since coming to the Senate, Sen. Perdue has always had an outside adviser managing his personal finances, and he is not involved in day-to-day decisions.”

Perdue reportedly instructed Robert Hutchinson, his financial adviser at Goldman Sachs, to sell $1 million in Cardlytics shares after receiving the email from Grimes, which Grimes later claimed was sent in error.

Perdue’s defenders argue there’s no inconsistency with having a financial adviser handle day-to-day transaction decisions and a client having input on major decisions, such as a $1 million sale.

The narrator in the Senate Majority PAC’s new ad highlights the key details of recent press reports and intones that Perdue is “looking out for himself, not for you” as the spot features a montage of press headlines about his stock trades.

Perdue has pushed back hard against the notion that he acted improperly and his campaign has noted that the Department of Justice, the SEC and the Senate Ethics Committee all declined to bring charges against the senator.

Perdue’s campaign is airing a response ad asserting that Democrat Jon Ossoff’s attacks on Perdue’s trades are “totally false.” The ad notes the senator did not attend a private Jan. 24 Senate briefing at which lawmakers were warned of the potentially catastrophic effect of the coronavirus before the Trump administration warned the public.

Perdue’s defense also cites press reports by The Associated Press and other publications revealing that the Ethics Committee cleared Perdue and federal investigators closed their cases.

The ad is running statewide and appears to be a hefty buy, but the Perdue campaign declined to disclose how much it’s spending.

John Burke, a spokesman for the Perdue campaign, referred to his statement given last month to The Times that “Senator Perdue has always followed the law” and that the Department of Justice and SEC “quickly and independently cleared Sen. Perdue of any wrongdoing.”

Tags David Perdue Donald Trump Georgia Jon Ossoff Kelly Loeffler stocks
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