WASHINGTON — Members of Congress have as much as $196 million collectively invested in companies doing business with the Defense Department, earning millions since the onset of the Iraq war, according to a study by a nonpartisan research group.
Not all of the companies in which lawmakers invested are typical defense contractors. Corporations such as Pepsico, IBM, Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson have at one point received defense-related contracts, notes the report by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.
The center's review of lawmakers' 2006 financial disclosure statements suggests that members' holdings could pose a conflict of interest as they decide the fate of Iraq war spending. Several members earning money from these contractors have plum committee or leadership assignments, including Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.) and House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.).
The study found that more Republicans than Democrats hold stock in defense companies, but that the Democrats who are invested had more money at stake. In 2006, for example, Democrats held at least $3.7 million in military-related investments, compared to Republican investments of $577,500.
Overall, 151 members hold investments worth $78.7 million to $195.5 million in companies that receive defense contracts that are worth at least $5 million. These investments earned them anywhere between $15.8 million and $62 million between 2004 and 2006, the center concludes.
It is unclear how many members still hold these investments and exactly how much money has been made. Disclosure reports for 2007 aren't due until this May. Also, members are required to report only a general range of their holdings.
According to the report, presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain did not report any defense-related holdings on their filings; Hillary Rodham Clinton did note holdings in such companies as Honeywell, Boeing and Raytheon, but sold the stock in May 2007. All three candidates are members of the Senate.
Earning dividends from companies tied to the military "could be problematic" for lawmakers who oversee defense policy and budgeting, noted the center's Lindsay Renick Mayer. Avoiding every company with a military contract, however, would not be easy for an investor.
"So common are these companies, both as personal investments and as defense contractors, it would appear difficult to build a diverse blue-chip stock portfolio without at least some of them," Mayer wrote Kerry, D-Mass., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is identified as earning the most — at least $2.6 million between 2004 and 2006 from investments worth up to $38.2 million.
Spokesman David Wade said Kerry, who staunchly opposes the war in Iraq, is one of many beneficiaries of family trusts that he doesn't control. Wade also noted that Kerry does not sit on the Appropriations Committee, which has direct control of the defense budget.
"He has a 24-year Senate record of working and voting in the best interests of our men and women in the military, not of any defense contractors," Wade said.
Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and a member of the Armed Services Committee, held a considerably smaller share at $51,000. A spokesman said the senator, who supports continued operations in Iraq, is "careful to make his policy decisions based only on what is best for the country."
A spokesman for Blunt, R-Mo., a senior member of House GOP leadership who held at least $15,000 in Lockheed Martin stock in 2006, said the insinuation that lawmakers' votes might be affected by their portfolios is "offensive." Like Lieberman, Blunt has been a fierce supporter of the war.
"I don't pretend to speak for other offices, but I am fairly certain that no member would consider their personal finances when voting on issues as important as sending our men and women in uniform into harm's way," said Blunt spokesman Nick Simpson. The Lockheed Martin stock was given to Blunt's wife by her mother, he said.
On the Net: Center for Responsive Politics' Capital Eye: www.capitaleye.org/inside.asp?ID342