As the novel coronavirus works it way through the United States, many Americans have seen their savings dwindle as the stock market continues its unprecedented free fall.
But for a handful US senators, the crisis was cause for a windfall. That’s because Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler, both of whom were briefed for weeks as the coronavirus approached America, decided it was a good idea to use their inside information to dump over a million dollar in stocks. Sens. Diane Feinstein and Jim Inhofe also sold significant amounts of stock.
To make matters worse for Burr, at the same time that he was shedding doomed paper, he was assuring the American people that our nation was “better prepared than ever for coronavirus.” Oh? Really? So is that why Burr engaged in dozens of transactions to protect his own portfolio while his fellow citizens lost billions?
Americans have been generally frustrated by a certain level of unfairness surrounding the response to coronavirus: It seems like every wealthy actor and athlete in the country has been tested for the virus while the average Joe struggles to even find out where testing exists. But for a sitting US senator to profit off of this disaster in so callous a way is simply beyond the pale.
Loeffler claims that third parties handle her investments, and she had no idea they were selling off stocks like unwanted stepchildren. But in Burr’s case, this explanation strains credulity. Unlike megawealthy Loeffler, his net worth hovers just a bit over $3.1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Are we really supposed to believe he had no idea that he moved a third of his wealth and that just happened to be after hearing non-public information on the dangers of the coronavirus? Come on.
Burr now says he used only publicly available information and cable news in making his decision to sell off at such a dramatic rate. But obviously there is no way for voters to know if the senator is just a brilliant and clairvoyant investor or if his inside access to secret information played a role in his panic sell.
But it gets worse: In 2012, Burr, along with only two other senators, opposed a bill to prohibit lawmakers and their staff from using secret information for investment purposes. So he clearly thinks using a little inside dope to juice his books is just a perk of his office, like access to the congressional subway system or a nice Senate pin.
But in one respect Burr did show a little bit of generosity to his friends. According a recording obtained by National Public Radio, he told a luncheon crowd at the North Carolina State Society, “There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history.” Where did that information come from, and why was it being given to a small set of well-connected people?
Calls for Richard Burr’s resignation have rained down from both sides.
Burr’s defense that he liquidated a third of his wealth because he saw a segment on CNBC that spooked him is flat out not going to cut it.
The senator needs to be clear with the American people right now. And he needs to stop standing in the way of transparency regarding how government officials with sensitive and valuable information invest. Meanwhile, Congress must look for further ways to ensure that the trust of the American people is not further abused by these duplicitous practices.
Serving in the US Senate is a sacred trust. Few legislative bodies in the world wield as much power as those 100 people do. We have to able to know that what they tell us is true. We have to know that they reside in those halls to serve the people, not to fill the coffers of their personal bank accounts.
Richard Burr has a lot of explaining to do, and he has to do it fast. People are scared and with good reason: They are losing their jobs, fearful for their health, disconnected from loved ones and nobody knows what is going to happen.
We need responsible leadership, not cynical profiteering. If Richard Burr can’t put the interests of the American people above his own financial interests, then he must resign.
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