Lawmakers profit from stock boom

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Members of Congress have made a tidy profit from the stock market boom, a review of financial disclosure forms shows.

Lawmakers vary wildly in their investment strategies, with some buying individual stocks and others preferring investments in mutual funds, bonds and real estate trusts.

{mosads}But many lawmakers have investments of some kind, placing them among the millions of people who are getting a financial lift from the recovery in financial markets.

Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 — the two most popular barometers of the stock market — posted bullish growth in 2013, closing the year at all-time highs.

The gains that lawmakers are accruing highlight how lawmakers are generally wealthier than the public at large.

Calculations by The Hill found that about 47 percent of lawmakers, or 253 of 535, had a minimum net worth of $500,000 or more in 2012. The actual number could be much greater, however, because lawmakers report their assets in sizable ranges. 

The median household net worth in the United States was about $56,300 in 2013, according to a study from the University of Michigan. 

One member with a sizable stock portfolio is Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), who according to his disclosure forms owns more than $50 million in CapitalSource, a financial services company he founded in 2000.

Though Delaney relinquished his role as chairman of CapitolSource when he ran for office in 2012, he still holds millions of shares. Its stock value shot up last year when PacWest Bancorp announced it would be purchasing the company for $2.3 billion. 

Within a family trust, Delaney also saw a boost in stock holdings in Williams Sonoma, Sherwin Williams and Harley Davidson.

Most lawmakers tend to be risk averse with their investing, putting their money in blue chip companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Exxon Mobil and Proctor & Gamble.

In 2012, more than 15 percent of Congress held stock in General Electric, making it the most common corporate investment for lawmakers, according to the most recent data available from the Center for Responsive Poltics. Eighty-four lawmakers reported holding stock in GE for a grand total of at least $3.1 million.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reported Wells Fargo stock held by his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, that increased in value last year from a minimum of $1,001 to a minimum of $500,001. Chao sits on the bank’s board of directors.  

While it’s perfectly legal for lawmakers to hold and trade stock, critics argue that it often can create the appearance of a conflict of interest when lobbyists from those companies work to shape legislation.

“Congressional stock holders have a greater return on investment than the average American,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen. “Either they are geniuses on the stock market or they know something that we don’t. I suspect the latter.”

Holman lobbied for passage of the STOCK Act, which forces the disclosure of stock trades made by Congress and some in the executive branch. He says the disclosure provisions were weakened before the bill was passed, but said the new rules are likely having an impact.

“I don’t know how much active trading has gone on since the STOCK Act. I suspect it’s dampened it,” Holman said. “Members are going to be more cautious now.”

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, keeps a diverse stock portfolio. He disclosed a stock holding in Pepsi that jumped in value last year to between $500,001 and $1 million. 

The Democrat leader in the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), reported stock gains as well.  

She saw her husband Paul Pelosi’s stock in Facebook increase in value from at least $100,000 to a minimum of $250,000 last year. Pelosi’s overall net worth grew by about $4 million in 2013, to $28.6 million, mostly due to an increase in a real estate investment. Paul’s holdings in Comcast rose from at least $250,000 to a minimum of $500,000. 

Lawmakers often take pains to ensure that they do not actively control their investments, instead opting to have a firm, broker or adviser handle active trading. Watchdogs say the only way to have a truly independent portfolio is to open up a qualified blind trust — a step that some lawmakers have taken.

Even then, Holman argues, the official must sign off on the valuations at the end of the year when preparing the disclosure forms, and sometimes have a close friend manage their trust.

 “So it’s not really blind,” he said.

Tags Financial economics Mitch McConnell Stock market

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