In the weeks leading up to a historic, pandemic-induced drop in the stock market, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe made hundreds of financial transactions. He purchased shares of companies such as Zoom and vaccine-maker Moderna, and sold shares in Disney and a popular cruise line.
Joel Ebert, politics reporter at The Tennessean, analyzed the congressman’s recent disclosures. He walks WPLN News through the financial records and responds to Roe’s claim that his article was a “political hit job.”
Roe’s financial disclosures show that shortly after members of Congress received private briefings on the coronavirus in January, he bought up shares in internet-based companies like Zoom, Spotify and Google’s parent company. Ebert’s reporting also found that Roe’s sale of shares in Disney, Delta Air Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruises in March came just days before the stock market plunged.
Roe’s transactions this year involved more than 300 assets valued between $4 million and $18.4 million.
Ebert reports that Roe attended a coronavirus briefing the day before purchasing shares in Zoom. “We are not drawing the conclusion that he used the information from that briefing to buy the stock,” Ebert says. Rather, he says, the records raise questions.
What Makes Something “Insider Trading?”
Insider trading occurs when an individual, including a public official, profits from information accessed using their position that is not publicly available. Ebert says that learning, through an official capacity, that specific industries will surge or slump would give one “a little more foresight than the average public person.”
Roe vehemently denies having any knowledge of or giving input on the trades. Roe says his holdings are managed entirely by a third-party investment firm, and that he has been completely transparent. “I had to do that,” he tells WJHL in Johnson City. “I just made a commitment to the people of my district and to this country to make sure that everything was above board, and I have kept my word.”
He tells the station he thinks Ebert’s article was a “political hit job.”
Ebert denies any political motivation. He notes that Roe announced in January that he plans to retire from Congress after this year. Ebert says he was led by his curiosity to investigate all members of the Tennessee delegation after N.C. Sen. Richard Burr made headlines for his pre-pandemic financial transactions.
What Have Other Tennessee Representatives Done?
Members of Congress are required to report any securities transaction of more than $1,000 to prevent insider trading. So far Democrat Steve Cohen and Republicans Tim Burchett, David Kustoff and Chuck Fleischmann have made their transactions publicly available. Of those four, Ebert reports that Cohen had the most transactions, 20 in all. He sold stock in tech, entertainment and oil companies that had a cumulative value of somewhere between $48,002 and $370,000.
Others have requested an extension to file their transactions. Of those who have filed, Roe has recorded the most financial activity.