Democrats are putting a lot of stock into Sen. David Perdue’s controversial financial transactions in their fight to win the Senate majority.
As the Georgia Republican continues to face an onslaught of news stories about the timing of his stocks trades amid a high profile runoff, super PACs run by allies of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are flooding the airwaves in the state. The Georgia Way and Georgia Honor — two newly formed super PACs affiliated with Senate Majority PAC — have spent more than $10 million so far since Nov. 3 on ads hammering Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) over their portfolios.
And they’re adding two new ads totaling another $5.5 million to their TV buys this week, the third straight week they’ve hit on the issue, according to new details shared first with POLITICO.
“The dam is just beginning to break and we plan to fully expose their unethical and potentially illegal behavior in the weeks ahead,” said J.B. Poersch, president of Senate Majority PAC. “Georgians simply can’t trust David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler when they’re knee-deep in the swamp and profiting at their expense.”
The ads highlight the tactics being used, as well as the vast sums of money both sides are willing to spend, in the run up to the January 5 runoffs, which will determine control of the Senate.
The first ad features news clips about Loeffler’s stock trades, which first received scrutiny shortly after she was appointed to the Senate and as the coronavirus was beginning to take hold in the U.S. The second ad highlights recent reporting from the New York Times about the Department of Justice’s investigation into Perdue’s stock trades, including that Perdue received an email from the CEO of a company, and subsequently instructed his wealth manager to sell shares of the stocks. The Times reported that investigators closed its probe into Perdue over the summer. The ad accuses Perdue of “looking out for himself, not you.”
Republicans, however, are dismissing the effectiveness of the attacks and argue that the issue has been litigated for months. New information, they say, is unlikely to sway voters in the next five weeks.
“It’s just not a new issue,” said former Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who previously held Perdue’s seat. “People are more worried about the economy, how it’s going to get back to normal ... As far as it being the deciding factor, I just don’t think it’s going to be that.”
Perdue and Loeffler both faced negative ads about their stock portfolios consistently throughout the general election. But the issue has taken on heightened intensity in recent weeks because the two senators are the only Republicans still on the ballot. Democrats need to win both seats to hold a 50-50 majority, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tie breaker.
Jon Ossoff, who is running against Perdue, continues to use the stock issue against the senator and even called his opponent a “crook” during a debate. In a press conference Monday, Ossoff characterized Perdue’s actions as “repeated and flagrant.”
"The standard for conduct for a U.S. Senator needs to be higher than that he wasn't criminally prosecuted,” Ossoff said. “This conduct is obviously deeply unethical and his lies all year that he doesn't personally direct his stock trades have been exposed as lies."
Loeffler faced earlier scrutiny than Perdue, but pushed back on it over the summer by highlighting that the Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission and Senate Ethics Committee dropped investigations into her stock trades. Raphael Warnock, Loeffler’s opponent, reiterated calls this week for Loeffler to put her stock portfolio in a blind trust.
“The people of Georgia deserve to know that when we send someone to the Senate, that person is not focused on their business, they're focused on the people's business,” Warnock said.
Stephen Lawson, a spokesperson for Loeffler, said she was "totally exonerated" because she did nothing wrong, and accused Warnock of "peddling a debunked lie about Senator Loeffler to distract from his own radical history" on a raft of issues Republicans have attacked him on.
Perdue first announced that he had been investigated in a TV ad in September in which a narrator said the DOJ, SEC and Senate Ethics Committee “cleared him completely.” Perdue went on airwaves again this week with an ad accusing Ossoff’s allegations into his stock trades of being “totally false.” A narrator in the new ad repeats that Perdue was “totally exonerated.” Democrats, however, are publicly questioning Perdue's claims of exoneration and calling for documentation.
John Burke, a spokesman for Perdue, highlighted the New York Times report, which said that the investigations were dropped, and accused Ossoff of lying in his attacks. Burke said in a statement that Ossoff is “twisting the truth to further deceive Georgia voters.”
Democrats’ ads have played up different aspects of the trading, and a raft of new stories from various outlets has created a cascading effect of information about the stocks. But it's unclear so far from public polling whether it will move voters, or simply help increase turnout from either side.
“There’s no such thing as a persuadable voter,” said one Georgia Republican, who requested anonymity to speak candidly on the issue. “The Dems all believe [Perdue] had inside information. The Republicans, even if they believe that, don’t give a s---. I just think it doesn’t do anything. I don’t think it moves the needle.”
Republicans, meanwhile, are betting that voters will keep a broader goal in mind: GOP control of the Senate.
"The issue is probably going to be the majority," said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). "That’s what people are voting on.”