Politics

Welch profited from investment in COVID-19 testing firm

Less than a month ago, as he received briefings on the coronavirus, Rep. Peter Welch purchased more than $7,500 worth of stock in Qiagen, a German diagnostics company that produces COVID-19 tests and, in the midst of a global economic meltdown, has been a rare company with a rising stock value.

In an interview Tuesday, the Vermont Democrat said the purchase was made by his investment adviser and without his consultation. “I can assure you that I had no knowledge of the purchase,” he said. “I had never heard of the company Qiagen.”

Welch said he sold the Qiagen stocks Tuesday and planned to donate all profits from the transaction — he estimated somewhere between $300 and $500 — to the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), a Vermont-based charity that helps the homeless.

A spokesperson for Welch said he purchased 210 shares less than a month ago at $36.36 a share, an investment of $7,635.60. Shares sold for as low as $38.81 on Tuesday and closed with a high for the day at $39.86, meaning Welch walked away with between $8,150.10 and $8,370.60, a profit of $514 to $735, depending on what time of the day he sold.

VTDigger inquired about the purchase by email on Monday.

Qiagen has developed a test that can differentiate between the coronavirus and 20 other respiratory ailments with results in an hour.

Welch is not the only person on Capitol Hill who invested wisely in recent weeks. According to Politico, a number of lawmakers and congressional aides have recently bought and sold stocks tied in various ways to the coronavirus crisis. The most prominent examples were two Republican senators, Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler, who unloaded millions in stocks shortly before the market crashed. 

According to federal financial disclosure forms, Welch purchased the Qiagen stock on Feb. 27. In early February, the House Intelligence Committee, of which Welch is a member, received a COVID-19 briefing from America’s spy agencies, Reuters reported. Welch appears to have first publicly expressed serious concerns over the coronavirus on Feb. 26, in a co-authored letter to President Donald Trump.

Welch acknowledged attending recent intelligence briefings, but said he was barred from commenting on their contents. He contended that congressional briefings do not influence his investment portfolio, and said he was first alerted to the coronavirus threat through public channels. “I know the first information I heard about corona was in the newspaper,” he said.

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While Vermont’s two U.S. senators, Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, are invested in a number of mutual funds, their investment activity is much less active than Welch, the state’s sole U.S. representative.

In 2019 alone, Welch purchased between $16,000 and $240,000 in investments including stocks in companies like General Mills, as well as purchasing Treasury notes. Welch, whose work on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce often involves oversight into technology and consumer goods, has also invested in a number of tech and consumer goods companies, including Orbotech, Church & Dwight, and Mitek Systems. 

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch speaks at a press conference in Barre on March 16, 2020, along with Scott administration officials about the impact of the coronavirus. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

In late October, for instance, Welch purchased between $1,000 and $15,000 of stocks in RegenxBio, a company developing gene therapy treatments. Less than two weeks later, on Nov. 8, Welch sold the RegenxBio stocks shortly after the FDA announced it had put a partial development hold on the firm’s leading gene project, which seeks to treat vision loss.

Asked if he has set specific rules for his investment adviser, Welch answered “no pharma.” Asked if he had ever discussed not investing in companies that could potentially see their business under scrutiny by his congressional committees, Welch said he hadn’t. 

In 2018, VTDigger reported that Welch was heavily invested in health care companies while pushing a controversial law that some said curtailed the ability of federal authorities to stem elicit black market prescription drug channels. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that Welch held stocks in financial firms as Congress debated new regulations on Wall Street firms. 

Welch told VTDigger in 2018 that he did not support a ban on congressional stock trading, but pointed out he had been a proponent of the 2012 Stock Act, which formally banned insider trading in Congress. In 2017, former Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., was investigated for insider trading under the Stock Act. He later pleaded guilty to insider trading.

In an interview Tuesday, Welch pointed out that the Stock Act mandated disclosure of congressional investment transactions. “It’s because of that law that you and others were able to see that purchase,” he said. “Transparency is what is really important here.” 

In recent years, a number of progressive lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have floated legislation that would ban members of Congress from trading individual stocks. In recent days, Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York announced plans to draft a House bill that would ban stock trading. 

Asked if he would support such legislation, Welch expressed qualified support. “I’m very open to it and I’m going to look at it,” he said.

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Jasper Craven

About Jasper

Jasper Craven is a freelance reporter for VTDigger.

A Vermont native, he first discovered his love for journalism at the Caledonian Record. He double-majored in print journalism and political science at Boston University, and worked in the Boston Globe’s Metro and Investigative units. While at the Globe he collaborated on Shadow Campus, a three-part investigative series focused on greed and mismanagement in Boston’s off-campus student housing market. The series was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.
He also spent two years at MuckRock, a news site dedicated to investigation and analysis of government documents. 

Craven covered Vermont’s U.S. congressional delegation for the Times Argus in the summer of 2014, and worked as a Metro reporter for the Chicago Tribune before joining the staff of VTDigger from 2015-2017.

Email: [email protected]

Follow Jasper on Twitter @Jasper_Craven

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