Monday, May 23, 2022

Kelly Loeffler’s Trumpian turn shocks former ICE colleagues

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Intercontinental exchange is a $ 65 billion mainstay of the U.S. corporate world, listing blue-chip stocks on the New York Stock Exchange and leading the market that helps set the price of global crude oil.

But the 20-year-old Atlanta-based company is best known in political circles as a springboard for the Republican senator from Georgia. Kelly loeffler, a former executive who joined ICE in its early days and is married to the exchange’s general manager, Jeffrey Sprecher.

Ms Loeffler, who was head of investor relations for ICE and later managing director of Bakkt, a subsidiary of ICE for Bitcoin products, is now in the throes of a hotly contested race to retain her seat in the US Senate before the second round of elections. Tuesday. She has gone to great lengths to win the favor of supporters of President Donald Trump.

She warned her Democratic opponent Raphael Warnock would turn the United States into a socialist country and called on Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State to step down after overseeing a U.S. presidential election that resulted in a narrow victory for Joe biden.

Ms Loeffler also praised the endorsement of a Republican who supported QAnon, the conspiracy theory that claims Mr. Trump protects Americans from a cabal engaged in cannibalism and pedophilia. And last month, a photo circulated of her smiling next to a former Ku Klux Klan leader, who was later disowned by his campaign.

Her increasingly belligerent rhetoric has caused consternation within the industry where she previously worked, with former colleagues and acquaintances questioning whether her politics have hardened or if all of this is an act to win an election in which it needs the strong support of Mr. Trump’s loyal base.

Former colleagues say they knew Ms Loeffler was a pro-business Republican, but didn’t get involved in conspiracy theories or dog whistle politics when she worked at the company.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with Kelly,” said a financial executive who knows her well. The executive recalled thinking after Ms Loeffler was sworn in in early 2020 to replace incumbent Senator Johnny Isakson: “I am more and more horrified. Who is that person? ”In her first television appearance after being appointed to the Senate, Ms. Loeffler described herself as“ pro-Trump, pro-military and pro-Wall ”.

Ms Loeffler joined ICE when it was only a start-up and still has strong ties to the company.

Exchange employees and their family members have been the largest single source of donations for both its campaign and Georgia United Victory, a super political action committee, this year, according to government documents compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Ms. Loeffler’s campaign has grossed over $ 92 million this campaign cycle; more than two-thirds of funds were raised between October and the end of 2020. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, nearly 40% of funds came from “significant individual contributions”, while just over a quarter were funded “by Mrs. Loeffler.

According to the CRP, people affiliated with ICE, chief among them Mr. Sprecher, have donated more than $ 21 million to Georgia United Victory, with most of that money spent on negative ads against Ms. Loeffler’s opponents. .

An August fundraiser for Ms. Loeffler at the Atlanta Country Club featured six ICE senior executives on the host list, according to an invitation seen by the Financial Times. They included Ben Jackson, president; Scott Hill, Chief Financial Officer; and Andrew Surdykowski, General Counsel.

ICE declined to comment. The Loeffler campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

At stake is high in Ms Loeffler’s race, as well as another Georgia Senate contest that will also be decided in Tuesday’s second round: Unless Democrats win both seats, Republicans will continue to control the second chamber of Congress and the power to frustrate Mr. Biden’s legislature. agenda.

Partners have long assumed that Mrs. Loeffler and Mr. Sprecher were Republicans; both were major donors to Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign in 2012.

But ICE employees say their political views have not resulted in a partisan workplace. Some board members are Democrats. Duriya Farooqui, an ICE Independent Director since 2017, tweeted messages supporting Mr Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris.

ICE insiders describe the internal culture of the company, which Ms. Loeffler helped promote, as tight-knit and ruthlessly motivated by generous pay for those who work hard. But they insist it was tolerant and inclusive, which is why his recent right turn was surprising.

Ms Loeffler’s political positions have caused some discomfort within the company, according to several people familiar with the conversations within the ICE. “They’re going to send me articles saying, ‘I can’t believe Kelly is saying that,’ said an industry executive with friends who work for the company, which has more employees in New York City. than in Atlanta.

The explanation generally accepted inside ICE and Washington is that Ms. Loeffler is performing in front of a Trumpian crowd.

“In the end, she does the math. . . we’re talking about a pure grassroots election, and given that, running to the right as much as she can is probably her best strategy, ”said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist who is not affiliated with the Loeffler campaign. “You’re not going to win a second round by talking about bipartisan compromises.”

“If I had to guess what’s going on, I would say his political strategists believe Trump’s message, policies and positions are deeply rooted in Georgia,” said a person who has known Ms. Loeffler for 15 years.

“The KKK photo was a shock to me and to the other people who know her, and I should give her the benefit of the doubt that she just took a photo with one of the many people who want a quick photo or a selfie, ”he added. .

Mr Heye said Ms Loeffler’s photo with a former KKK leader “should”. . . be a deciding factor. But we just don’t know in our 2020 policy if that will be the case.

Ms Loeffler had not been Mr Trump’s first choice to fill the vacant Senate post Georgia, and some argue that this was instrumental in his support for the president.

“She’s really trying to prove herself,” said a former ICE employee. “In politics, people follow policies they don’t always believe in.”

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