Opinion: Cory Gardner must speak out against insider trading

Sen. Cory Gardner has an opportunity to make good on his promises to Coloradans. Will he take it?

By Marie Aberger

Senator Cory Gardner promised to be an independent voice for Coloradans: “When my party is wrong, I’ll say it. When something is broken, I’ll fix it.” Now is Gardner’s chance to act on his pledge. Profiting off a public health crisis, allegedly through insider trading, is wrong. And there is a clear, straightforward way for Gardner to help fix it.

Recent reports suggest that two of Gardner’s Senate colleagues, Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler, relied on information from a senators-only briefing when deciding to offload millions of dollars of stocks before the recent market collapse. Meanwhile, those same senators publicly minimized the pandemic’s threat to the American people, padding their pockets while putting families at risk.

Burr was one of only three senators to oppose a bill banning Congress from insider trading. And Loeffler not only sold ahead of the crash, she also specifically bought stocks likely to benefit from Americans’ shift to telework. And her husband, the chairman of the world’s largest stock exchange, sold off millions more in stocks, which Loeffler initially failed to disclose.

If United States senators used inside information to make millions off a public health crisis, it is blatant, outrageous corruption, and it cannot go unchecked. Gardner can take decisive action right now to keep his promise to Coloradans and stand up for what is right.

First, Gardner must immediately call for federal investigations into Burr and Loeffler. These must be independent investigations run by the Securities Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice. Gardner has endorsed Burr’s call for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, but that is simply not good enough. Ethics Committee inquiries are notoriously slow-moving and inevitably influenced by personal relationships. Moreover, the Senate’s work right now should focus on stabilizing the economy, supporting workers, and ensuring our hospitals and first responders have the supplies they need to stay healthy and save lives. Insider trading is a serious criminal allegation. Leave the investigations to the professionals.

Second, Gardner must champion legislation to ban members of Congress from owning individual stocks. Bills to do just that have already been introduced in both the House and Senate. As a close ally of Mitch McConnell and a crucial vote in the Senate, Gardner should not just support those bills, he should use his immense leverage to force McConnell to fast-track them.

While Burr and Loeffler’s actions raise the most obvious warning signs, they are not the only members of Congress who sold stock before the downturn. Requiring legislators to keep their fortunes in diversified funds rather than individual companies is the simplest and most obvious way to prevent corruption and avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing, which undermines public confidence in our government.

Gardner’s recent financial disclosures show he wisely invests in mutual funds rather than individual stocks. But independent leadership is not just about doing what’s right yourself. It’s about having the courage to stand up to your friends and colleagues. The current insider trading scandal is just the latest evidence of a culture of corruption in the Senate. Wealthy friends and special interests get the inside track, and Coloradans pay the price in the form of higher drug costs, increased pollution and attacks on our health care.

Now is the perfect time for Gardner to finally stand up to McConnell and show that his promises are more than empty words.

Senator: Members of your party are wrong. Say it. Something is broken. Fix it.

Marie Aberger is a Colorado resident and a founding partner of Be Clear, a progressive communications firm. She serves as a spokesperson for Cut the Strings Colorado, a project of Rocky Mountain Values.