Campaigner's finances

Where the presidential hopefuls have invested their fortunes may reveal something about each's character

By Dolores Kong, Globe Staff, 7/30/2000

f money talks, then what the presidential candidates have in their investment portfolios may speak volumes.

Vice President Al Gore - who once claimed to have invented the Internet and considers himself an environmentalist - has no Internet securities, just some oil stock in his father's estate, and a zinc mine that's leased out. Otherwise, he's in plain-vanilla cash and real estate, saying he refrains from stock and mutual fund ownership to avoid conflict of interest.

Texas Governor George W. Bush owns Big Oil, of course, but he also has held shares in Compaq, a gold mining company, and the Texas Rangers baseball team. He's owned Microsoft, the target of federal antitrust action. And Bush himself has been investigated for possible insider trading, for a 1990 sale of oil stock just before the firm reported losses, but no action was ever taken.

Reform Party candidate Patrick J. Buchanan is as conservative in his investments as he is in his politics, with nearly half of his millions in cash and bonds. He's also the only candidate who owns gold and other precious metals, more than $250,000 worth. Despite his objections to the North American Free Trade Agreement, he holds shares in a firm that supported the pact.

And Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, famous for his proconsumer, anticorporate stance, is also a capitalist, with more than $1 million worth of Cisco, and millions in cash, Fidelity funds, and other high-tech firms. He says he regrets not owning stock in the Washington Post Co., up more than tenfold since the 1970s, so he'd have more profits for ''consumer and other civic initiatives that its newspaper too rarely covers.''

These and other gleanings from the candidates' latest personal financial disclosures and other public information provide extra insight into the men who would be president: How do they manage their money, and what might that say about their personality and how they might govern?

''I'd certainly be a lot more comfortable with someone who understood the new economy rather than with someone who understood gold, in a position of leadership,'' said psychologist Richard Geist, president of the Newton-based Institute of Psychology and Investing.

''If you believe that the new economy is here to stay, then you'd have to believe that Nader is in tune with the times,'' Geist said. ''Gold has been an extremely poorly performing asset class for the last 10 years ... so you'd have to ask why someone is sticking with that now.''

Geist didn't find much in the portfolio of Bush or Gore to sway votes or make them the envy of stockpickers everywhere.

''I don't think there's any differentiating factor in terms of whether to vote for someone or not,'' he said of the candidates' holdings.

So as the Republican Party kicks off its convention in Philadelphia this week, with the Reform Party following suit in Long Beach, Calif., and the Democratic Party in Los Angeles, in August, it seems worthwhile not only to listen to what the candidates say on the stump, but to look at what they do with their money.

Gore: With a family net worth between $1.1 million and $2.5 million, the Democrat is the ''poorest'' of the presidential candidates and has the most humdrum portfolio, according to a Globe analysis of the latest personal financial disclosure forms. The candidates need only value their assets in a broad range on the forms.

The only publicly traded asset listed by Gore is Occidental Petroleum, worth between $500,000 and $1 million, in his late father's estate. But Gore's spokesmen said that doesn't conflict with the vice president's environmental advocacy.

''It's listed on his form, but he actually doesn't own the stock,'' said Jim Kennedy, communications director for the vice president's office. ''It was in his father's estate and is now in a trust for his mother.'' As executor of his father's estate and a potential beneficiary of the trust, Gore was required to list the stock as an asset, Kennedy said. Gore is no longer a trustee of the estate and ''doesn't have the ability to sell it or order that it be sold,'' he said.

The other Gore asset that may raise eyebrows with environmentalists: A zinc mine that's leased out and worth between $100,000 and $250,000, according to the candidate's personal financial disclosure form filed in May.

Douglas Hattaway, national spokesman for the Gore presidential campaign, said the vice president bought the land and mineral lease from his father, and his ownership of it does not contradict his environmental positions.

''My understanding is the mine has met all environmental regulations,'' he said.

The rest of the Gore family's assets is in cash, individual retirement accounts, Virginia and Tennessee real estate, a real estate S corporation, and the children's trusts.

And no high-flying tech stocks or mutual funds for the man who once claimed to have invented the Internet.

''The vice president has chosen not to make investments in stocks or mutual funds, and he has done so not because of any requirement of law, but in order to avoid even the appearance of any potential conflicts,'' said Kennedy. ''That's the course he's chosen as vice president.''

Bush: The Republican is the richest of the presidential candidates, with a family net worth of between $11.1 million and $29.4 million, according to the personal financial disclosure he filed this year.

Concerns about conflict of interest apparently haven't kept Bush from owning shares at some point in such companies as Microsoft, BP Amoco, Baxter International, Ford, and other big businesses.

Although the disclosure form reports Bush has sold shares in these and about two dozen other publicly traded companies, it lists dividends and capital gains of between $33,000 and $90,000 being received from these firms during the reporting period.

A campaign spokesman said he believed the shares were sold by Bush's blind trust, although he didn't know details. Such trusts are sometimes used by elected officials to avoid concerns about conflicts of interest, since officials theoretically don't know what the trusts buy, sell, or hold.

The Texas governor still owns more than $12,000 worth of Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. in his IRA, however, according to the disclosure form.

Bush's most profitable investment was his $600,000 stake in the Texas Rangers in 1989. When the team was sold in 1998 - after Bush helped persuade taxpayers to finance a new stadium, thus boosting the team's value - his share was worth about $15 million, according to public reports.

And his most questionable investment was in 1990, when he sold some of his shares in Harken Energy for a profit, just weeks before the company announced multimillion-dollar losses. Bush, a director and consultant to the company as a result of Harken's merger with a failing oil exploration firm he founded, said he sold the shares to pay down the loan he took out for the Rangers and didn't know about the company's financial problems at the time. The Securities and Exchange Commission investigated Bush for possible insider trading, but took no action against him.

Buchanan: In the disclosure he filed more than a week ago, after the Federal Election Commission sent him a letter by certified mail about his missing the May deadline, Buchanan listed a family net worth of between $5.2 million and $16.1 million, including assets held in PJB Enterprises, an employee benefit trust for him, his wife, and one employee, and a recent inheritance.

About 40 percent of his net worth is in cash or cash equivalents and municipal or corporate bonds, and he has between $250,000 and $500,000 in gold, silver, and other precious metals. He owns rental properties in Maryland and Washington, D.C., worth between $650,000 and $1.5 million, and a personal residence in McLean, Va., that's valued between $1 million and $5 million.

Buchanan also holds between $180,000 and $565,000 in such stocks as AT&T, SBC Communications, Lucent Technologies, El Paso Energy Corp., Bell Atlantic (now Verizon), and Burlington Resources, according to the disclosure form.

But while Buchanan has said that the ''elitist architects'' of NAFTA ''have locked arms with their corporate cohorts to support a trade policy that is neither fair nor free,'' according to campaign information, at least one of his corporate holdings, AT&T, pushed for the pact, according to company information.

K. B. Forbes, communications director for Buchanan, said: ''Mr. Buchanan has never invested in AT&T. It was a gift from his father-in-law over 20 years ago, and it's in his and his wife's name.''

Aside from that, Forbes said, the campaign's policy is to ''let the report speak for itself,'' and declined to comment further on the candidate's personal financial disclosure.

Nader: Famous for his gadfly campaigns, Nader is also well-known for his frugal lifestyle - he doesn't own a car, he doesn't own a house or condo, and he wears a limited wardrobe.

But he's been secretive about his personal finances - until now. In the financial disclosure form required of presidential candidates, which he filed last month after being granted an extension, Nader discloses assets worth $4.09 million to $4.96 million.

His biggest individual stock holding is in networking company Cisco Systems, worth $1.16 million in early June. But Nader also owns other tech-related holdings - between $15,000 and $50,000 each of ACTV (interactive TV and TV-on-demand maker), Fibercore (a Charlton-based optical fiber maker), and Iomega (computer drive maker), and between $50,000 and $100,000 each of networking company 3Com, publisher Ziff-Davis, and electronic design product supplier Cadence Design.

He also has a couple of Fidelity funds: between $50,000 and $100,000 in the OTC fund, and between $100,000 and $250,000 in Magellan. But most of his holdings are in cash and cash equivalents, between $2.59 million and $3 million.

While some may find Nader's stock ownership contrary to his proconsumer, anticorporate stance, he explains in an addendum to his disclosure form that he consistently gives away 50 percent of his adjusted gross income to charities, and views his income and profits as ''a de facto philanthropic fund for many projects and institutions that serve the interests of consumers, the environment, labor, and more accountable business and government. In short, monies I earn are for strengthening civil society.''

Indeed, his stock ownership didn't stop him from filing a federal suit in Boston last month in the name of better government, and counter to the interests of one of the companies he owns, 3Com. In the suit in US District Court, Nader charged that the Federal Election Commission is violating the law by allowing corporations, including 3Com, to help underwrite the presidential debates, and thus potentially influencing the campaign.

''I don't think that's an inconsistency,'' said a campaign spokeswoman of Nader's stock ownership and the suit.

Or perhaps the suit was motivated by the fact that Nader is excluded from the debates, the first of which is scheduled for Oct. 3 at Boston's John F. Kennedy Library.