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Would an SEC Investigation Force Senate Corker to Vacate the Senate Banking Committee?

A good-government group has filed complaints against Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

The complaints filed by the Campaign for Accountability stem from reports about Corker’s trades in stock in CBL & Associates Properties Inc., a Chattanooga-based real estate firm.

The Campaign for Accountability (CfA) asserts that, “based on his trading pattern, it appears that on several occasions Sen. Corker likely received material, non-public information from either a UBS [bank] or CBL insider.”

CfA Executive Director Anne Weismann stated, “Sen. Corker’s trades followed a consistent pattern — he bought low and sold high. It beggars belief to suggest these trades – netting the senator and his family millions – were mere coincidences.”

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Corker has been notably active in trading shares in this particular company.  Many profitable trades appeared to follow advance notice from his broker, UBS Securities. Corker had to amend financial disclosure statements after having initially failed to fully report some of these transactions.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press, in Corker’s home state, and Politico, widely read in Washington, are among the publications that are following this emerging story.  

As we noted last week, the reports about the CBL transactions come on the heels of Corker’s controversial call for investors to short–sell stock in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac several weeks ago during a CNBC interview. Those comments were especially noteworthy given Corker’s leading role in crafting legislation to dismantle the GSEs and give their business to other financial institutions. 

We’ll see what develops, should the SEC decide to investigate Senator Corker.  But a formal investigation would certainly raise an interesting issue:  As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Corker wields regulatory oversight over the Securities and Exchange Commission – the very enforcement agency that would be tasked with investigating the activity outlined in the complaint filed today.  In this context, how could Corker remain on the Banking Committee without it being a clear conflict of interest?  We think the answer to that question is clear.  He could not.