Georgia Sen. David Perdue initiated the well-timed sale of more than $1 million worth of stock in the tech-banking firm Cardlytics, according to a report from the New York Times, despite previous claims made by Perdue that an outside adviser makes his trades.
Perdue, who sat on the board of Cardlytics before entering office, came under scrutiny this year for trades that occurred in the weeks before the coronavirus shutdown — and also just prior to the CEO of Cardlytics stepping down. This past spring, when Perdue was questioned about the curiously timed trades, he said through a spokesperson that his trades were made by an independent financial adviser, and therefore couldn’t be the result of any inside information he had obtained.
“Since coming to the U.S. Senate, Senator Perdue has always had an outside advisor managing his personal finances, and he is not involved in day-to-day decisions,” Perdue spokesperson Casey Black told The Intercept in March in response to questions about his trading stocks in the run-up to the pandemic-fueled market crash. Asked specifically about the Cardlytics transactions, Black reiterated that “outside, independent financial advisors manage [Perdue’s] retirement savings.”
Yet that Perdue claim is a lie: According to the recent report in the Times, Perdue ordered the trades himself.
On January 21, Cardlytics CEO Scott Grimes emailed Perdue. “David, I know you are about to do a call with David Evans,” Grimes wrote. “As an FYI, I have not told him about the upcoming changes. Thanks, Scott.”
Evans was the company’s chief operating officer. Any “changes” significant enough to be kept from the COO would be likely to move the stock.
Perdue replied: “I don’t know about a call with David or the changes you mentioned.”
The next morning, Grimes wrote back: “David, Sorry. That email was not meant for you. Wrong David!”
Either Perdue knew about the changes and was creating a record that could enable him to deny such knowledge, or he did not know about the changes and wanted to be clear he had no such knowledge.
Whether the message had truly been sent in error or not, Perdue acted shortly thereafter. “Mr. Perdue then contacted his wealth manager at Goldman Sachs, Robert Hutchinson, and instructed him to sell a little more than $1 million worth of Cardlytics shares, or about 20 percent of his position,” the Times reported, citing three sources. “One person familiar with the inquiry into Mr. Perdue’s trades said that the conversation was memorialized in an internal Goldman Sachs record later obtained by the F.B.I.”
Five weeks later, the company announced Grimes was stepping down amid a shake-up of the leadership team, which also included COO Evans, and the stock tanked — falling by nearly two-thirds in two weeks.
The records, including Perdue’s email exchanges, were obtained through grand jury subpoenas as part of an investigation that started earlier this year when a handful of Republican senators came under scrutiny for stock trading at the beginning of the pandemic. The Intercept’s first investigation into Perdue’s trading was published in May, and Perdue was questioned by the FBI in June; the grand jury declined to indict the senator.
Perdue’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a follow-up request for comment. Perdue’s spokesperson had previously told The Intercept that Perdue was acting on advice from October 2019 to sell Cardlytics shares, a claim repeated to the Times.
Perdue, who is facing a runoff against Jon Ossoff in January, has since been running an ad boasting of having been “totally exonerated.” Perdue bested Ossoff by about 88,000 votes in November but fell just shy of the 50 percent margin needed to avoid a runoff.
As The Intercept previously reported, on March 18, when Cardlytics stock was bottoming out under $30, Perdue bought back the bulk of the shares he had sold — but this time getting them at a steep discount, investing between $200,000 and $500,000 back into the company, according to Senate disclosures. The stock has seen explosive growth since, currently selling at around $115 per share.
Grimes, who is now executive chair of the board, also gave $5,600, the maximum allowable contribution by individuals, to Perdue’s campaign in 2019, his only contribution to any candidate in the 2020 cycle. Most of the executives involved in that corporate restructuring had helped Perdue win his race in 2014, contributing $24,500, according to campaign finance reports.
That Perdue owned so much Cardlytics stock at all was itself thanks to the generosity of the company’s board. Perdue received stock options in the company for serving on its board, but those options were worthless when he was elected to the Senate in 2014, because the company had yet to go public. The Cardlytics board bailed Perdue out by extending the deadline for exercising his options by years. As The Intercept reported in May:
According to filings with the SEC, Cardlytics “accelerated Mr. Perdue’s options” — which means he was fully granted the ones that had yet to vest — “and extended the post-termination exercise periods applicable to Mr. Perdue’s option grants to October 12, 2020 and January 25, 2022.” Having extra time to exercise the options gives the stock more opportunity to rise, and gives Perdue more time to decide whether to exercise them, thus dramatically reducing his risk. According to his Senate financial disclosure reports, Perdue had the option to purchase the stock at two separate prices, known as strike prices: 59 cents and $1.11. When the value of the company rises above the strike price, the options are said to be “in the money.”
Brian Foley, an executive compensation consultant and managing director of the firm Brian Foley & Company, said that allowing Perdue to leave with all of his options in 2014 was generous of the board, but an understandable decision. Allowing him to stretch the time he had to exercise the options out to 2020 and 2022, he added, was extraordinary, as Cardlytics was not yet a public company, and that window allowed him many years to wait for the company to go public and its stock to rise before deciding whether to exercise his options.
Cardlytics, part of the nascent financial technology industry, collects and analyzes personal consumer and banking data, using financial transaction history to help companies tailor their personalized marketing efforts. That practice puts it up against a host of privacy regulations, and the company proudly markets its ability to stay within the law as a prime selling point. Perdue serves on the Senate Banking Committee and has worked to roll back regulations that govern firms like Cardlytics. Such conflicts of Perdue’s have recently been investigated by the New York Times and the Daily Beast.