Lawmakers sold off BP shares


Members of the congressional committees that oversee the oil and gas industry held more than $11 million in personal financial assets in that sector late last year, including at least $400,000 in the two companies at the heart of the Gulf of Mexico oil-drilling disaster.

From the nearly $100,000 in BP stock held by Rep. Frederick Upton (R-Mich.) to the nearly $650,000 in ConocoPhillips shares held by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), lawmakers on five key panels with oversight of the oil industry held more than 110 assets in firms from that sector.

All told, the members of the five House and Senate committees had a minimum of $11.4 million in stock holdings in the oil and gas industry, with a maximum value that could have exceed $16.8 million, according to an analysis of financial disclosure forms released Wednesday.

Before the Gulf disaster, some lawmakers sold off shares in the companies at the center of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill for personal financial reasons. Among them was Kerry, whose wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, sold off the last remaining shares she held in Transocean, the company that owned the drilling rig.

At the end of 2009, however, Heinz family trusts still held between $350,000 and $750,000 in BP stock, coming in purchases last year.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) also bought as much as $50,000 worth of stock in the British oil giant, which owned the well which has been spewing oil since the April 20 explosion off the Louisiana coastline.

Wednesday served as financial-disclosure day on Capitol Hill, the one day of the year when the media and government watchdogs get a glimpse into the personal assets and transactions of members of Congress. The lawmakers must show the value of their assets on Dec. 31 of the previous year, as well as any gifts received and financial transactions they took the year before. Federal laws only require members of Congress to provide a range of values for assets, and some ranged as widely as between $1 million and $5 million.

Critics, including some members of Congress, have requested that lawmakers reveal their finances more regularly and with more detail, in order to prevent any appearance of conflict of interest between their financial holdings and their legislative portfolio.

Kerry — who is serving as the Senate Democrat’s lead negotiator on energy legislation — has at least $6 million in financial assets from a dozen big oil and gas companies, including household names such as Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, BP and ConocoPhillips. The senator defended his family’s financial holdings, saying his wife’s trusts from her first husband’s ketchup fortune would not deter him from taking on the oil industry.

“Senator Kerry has been the Senate’s best environmental champion for more than 25 years and has written and urged legislation to end our dependence on foreign oil. Inherited holdings in family trusts he has no control over whatsoever clearly have no impact on his fight for a green economy and a clean environment,” Whitney Smith, Kerry’s spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), who in 2008 held between $1,000 and $15,000 in Transocean shares, sold off all of his holdings in that company in February 2009, the disclosure forms show.

Overall, some lawmakers saw their energy holdings grow. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a longtime promoter of alternative-energy legislation, saw her investment in Clean Energy Fuels — billing itself as North America’s largest provider of natural gas for motor vehicles — grow from a minimum of $15,000 to a minimum of $50,000 by the end of 2009.

That investment represents a small sliver of the speaker’s financial portfolio, which is run by her husband, investor Paul Pelosi, whose primary holdings consist of real estate — including a Napa vineyard that continues to be valued at between $5 million and $25 million.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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