Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue lost their Senate seats this past Wednesday in the high-stakes Georgia run-off that was overshadowed by the attack on the Capitol, giving the Democrats the two seats they needed in order to have a Congress that would work with President-elect Joe Biden, rather than get in his way.
But the truly remarkable thing about the Loeffler and Perdue campaigns is how close they were to winning.
Both Georgia Senators were caught making money off of the stock market with their inside information on the pandemic—while telling their constituents that everything was under control and opposing the stimulus to help working people to boot—but got millions of votes anyway, which begs the question of whether Georgia voters didn’t know, or simply don’t care.
Making trades with non-public information is illegal to citizens, and punishment for insider trading can be as harsh as $5 million and 20 years in prison. Not that Kelly Loeffler, whose estimated net worth just crossed $1 billion, would flinch at either the figure or the jail time that the rich in this country never seem to see. But even more suspicious is the fact that these charges only come up in the press, and almost never in court.
The STOCK Act of 2012 clearly prohibits government employees from using non-public information for private gain, but proving that a member of Congress participated in illegal insider trading is almost impossible thanks to the Speech and Debate Clause in the Constitution, which prohibits members of Congress from being questioned by the executive or judiciary branches of government. Though created as a way to protect those in the legislative branch from accusations and trials that would distract them from their duties, in effect it has become a carte blanche protecting Senators and House Representatives from the punishment they so rightly deserve.
The second obstacle is proving that the information was material and non-public, meaning, would the news of a highly contagious, rather deadly virus impact the price of the stocks in question?
Loeffler and Perdue are not the only politicians blatantly abusing their firsthand knowledge of world affairs to make huge profits: Richard Burr (R-NC), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) have all been met with investigations into their trading activities in 2020, according to Forbes. Many sold stocks in industries like travel and retail, and bought stocks in pharmaceuticals and telecommuting companies. Most of the trades in question occurred between late January and early March.
But one also has to wonder how politicians keep getting away with it, not only escaping punishment, but in many cases winning reelection. How is it that two people who sold their most vulnerable stock holdings directly after being briefed on the coming coronavirus threat could be standing on campaign stages rather than sitting in jail?
The 21st century has created a new era of politics wherein political outsiders are favored, and businesspeople, in particular, are preferred. David Perdue ran on this principle in 2014, as did Donald Trump in 2016, and Kelly Loeffler, who donated millions of dollars to Republican campaigns, was never elected in the first place. In 2020, all three touted their backgrounds as entrepreneurs and chief executives to encourage voters to trust them, hiding behind the conservative lens of small government in order to decrease regulations that would prohibit lawmakers from profiting off of their privileged positions in government.
2021 may have started on a chaotic note, but we need to make sure that Congress writes new legislation that effectively stops political leaders from rigging the system in their favor. We already know many of the perks—like exclusive and high-quality healthcare, freedom from student loans, hefty annual allowances in addition to a salary of $174,000, and lifelong pensions at 80% of that—that our politicians enjoy, but for political leaders to be able to make even more money by trading stocks with a clear glimpse of what the future holds is simply outrageous.
We also need to start the conversation of who is truly qualified to run for office. In the United States, we pride ourselves on the notion that anyone can rise to political leadership, but what if all we are doing is letting the fox into the hen house?
Loeffler and Perdue not only bought stocks they knew would perform and sold stocks they knew were destined for the gutter in 2020; they were also given the power to pass legislation that benefitted their investments. Politicians who do not ethically uphold the responsibilities they have been entrusted with should be barred from running for office at least, and penalized for their crimes at best.
Only then will our country live up to its dream.
This post is republished on Medium.