NewsMontana News


MT congressional delegation investments and coronavirus: No red flags

Gianforte has independent manager of investments
Posted at 7:59 AM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 19:58:39-04

In the past three months, investment funds owned by U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte have bought stock in several pharmaceutical and consulting firms doing work related to the coronavirus outbreak.

Yet those purchases are a tiny fraction of the more than 200 transactions that Gianforte’s investment funds publicly reported since Jan. 1, as they bought and sold stock in scores of international and domestic companies, involved in all types of businesses.

Gianforte, one of three Republicans running for Montana governor this year, also told MTN News through a spokesman that his investment fund manager makes decisions without his knowledge or input, as part of a “blind investment agreement.”

MTN News asked Gianforte and U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester about their investments this year, in the wake of allegations that some members of Congress used early, inside information on the coronavirus pandemic to profit or avoid losses in the stock market.

Daines, a Republican running for re-election this year, has made no stock transactions of $1,000 or more since the first of the year, a spokeswoman said. Members of Congress must report such transactions within 30 days of occurrence.

Tester, a Democrat re-elected in 2018, hasn’t made any investment changes since January, his office said. The senators’ next personal financial-disclosure reports are due May 15.

Their respective offices also said Tester and Daines had no access to information divulged at a Jan. 24 briefing of the Senate Health Committee – a meeting that included senators who later faced accusations that they used that information to change their investments.

Gianforte is opposed in the GOP gubernatorial primary by Attorney General Tim Fox and state Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell. Ballots in the contested primary will be mailed to voters on May 8.

One of the wealthiest members of Congress, Gianforte has most of his personal wealth managed through his blind investment agreement.

Gianforte had said when he was elected he would place his substantial investments in a blind trust, but his campaign said he decided later to arrange the blind investment agreement, which would still remove him from investment decisions, but allow the transactions to be reported publicly.

The arrangement "ensures public transparency with a requirement that investments made on Greg's behalf are reported, something a blind trust doesn't do," the campaign said.

A spokesman for his campaign said the investment manager decides on transactions, without talking to Gianforte, and provides regular transaction reports that are filed with the U.S. House clerk’s office, which posts them on a public website.

So far this year, Gianforte filed eight reports with the clerk’s office showing more than 200 transactions.

American Bridge, a political group that supports Democrats, and other critics highlighted several of those transactions last month, saying Gianforte bought $375,000 to $850,000 worth of stock in companies that “stood to benefit from the coronavirus crisis.”

Those companies include pharmaceutical firms Roche Holdings of Switzerland, Chugai Pharmaceutical of Thailand, GlaxoSmithKline of Great Britain and Shionogi & Co. of Japan, and consulting firm NV5 Global of Florida.

Fox’s campaign also said Gianforte had engaged in “insider trading” that “capitalizes on the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Gianforte declined to respond directly to either allegation, but his campaign provided information showing he had no knowledge of the trades made by his investment manager and that the purchases in January, February and March are just 10 of more than 200 transactions reported during that time period.

The other purchases involve everything from stock in oil companies, banks and private prisons, to bonds financing schools and water systems in Montana.

Gianforte also noted that the first detailed information he had on the coronavirus outbreak came at a House Energy and Commerce Committee briefing on Feb. 26. He also had additional briefings at committee and Republican House meetings in mid-March and early April, he said.

Congress is now on an extended break.

Some members of the Senate Health Committee – GOP Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, in particular – significantly altered their investments after a private Jan. 24 briefing from top federal officials on the coronavirus.

Loeffler has said senators didn’t hear information that greatly differed from what was publicly available, and that her stock sales were part of a plan to shift her holdings to mutual funds.

Burr has said he was following the advice of financial reporters and has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review his trades.