From Capitol Eye Blog, Congressional Lawmakers Invest in Their (Financial) Health

As members of Congress assess the proper dose of reform for the nation’s health care system, many of them have likewise invested hundreds of thousands of dollars of their personal funds into the very companies whose financial fortunes depend on what measures become law.

While some political scientists and other experts are concerned this reality inhibits good policy, lawmakers themselves say the financial health of their constituents — not their investment portfolios — alone drive their decisions.

Legislators held significant investments in pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Amgen, the Center for Responsive Politics has found. Through 2008 — the most recent year for which lawmakers filed this information — many congressional members’ personal funds were also invested in big-time insurers Aetna, UnitedHealth Group and Metlife, among others.

“Having personal funds in healthcare companies has the potential to influence someone’s understanding of the issues and affect the policies they support. The potential for being influenced by one’s own self interest is present whenever Congress is considering legislation that could have an impact on the profits of the companies,” said Leonard Weber, Professor Emeritus at the University of Detroit Mercy and an ethics consultant for health establishments. “It would certainly be better if these self-interests were not part of the decision-making process.”

One member mentioned in the story is Senator Kerry:

Name: Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

Committee: Senate Finance

2008 investments: Last year Kerry and his wife, heiress Teresa Heinz Kerry, together held at least $5.2 million in pharmaceutical companies Merck and Eli Lilly — firms they were not invested in the year prior.

2007 summary: In 2007, Kerry and his wife had between $22 million and $27.2 million invested in health companies — more than any other current lawmaker and spouse. This includes the largest investments in pharmaceutical and health product companies, health and accident insurers and HMOs and health services. Among the companies they invested in were Medtronic (worth between $501,000 and $1 million), Laboratory Corp of America (between $500,000 and $1 million) and GlaxoSmithkline (between $251,000 and $500,000).

Where he stands: Supports the public health insurance option. But if the final compromise includes a plan to provide a public health insurance option only if private insurance companies fail to meet certain specifications, Kerry has said he could vote for it. He also supports an individual mandate with subsidies for low-income persons.

In response: Kerry’s holdings are in trusts he inherited when his mother and other family members died, said spokeswoman Jodi Seth, who added he has no control over any of them. “It’s ridiculous to suggest that inherited trusts that he doesn’t control would affect one iota the progressive values John Kerry has fought for his entire life,” Seth said in a statement. “In fact, he has voted against his own financial interests time and time again from opposing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to leading the fight against the Cheney energy bill and much more. Go ask some rich Republicans if they can say the same.”

And, according to Teresa Heinz Kerry’s chief of staff, Jeff Lewis, Kerry is not a beneficiary of his wife’s trusts, which he must report on the annual disclosure reports. “These trusts were established by her late first husband, Senator John Heinz, and Senator Heinz’s father, and include a trust established for her benefit at the time of Senator Heinz’s death in 1991, and two trusts established in the early 1960s by Senator Heinz’s father,” Lewis said in a statement. “Mrs. Heinz is not a trustee of those trusts and thus has no control over their investment policies, which are the responsibility of independent trustees.”

Much more at the link.