Taking Stock of Bob Graham

The South Florida senator and presidential candidate wheels and doodles

When it was suggested that members of Congress should divest themselves of stocks in companies that are affected by their committee memberships, Jarding said, "Literally every member on [the Senate Energy Committee], or almost every member, owns stock in energy companies."

That's a bit overstated. Of the 22 members, six others -- Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Don Nickles (R-Oklahoma), Craig Thomas (R-Wyoming), and Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) -- hold energy stocks, according to financial disclosure forms filed last year. Of them, Kyl had the largest holdings (including ownership in Exelon and Duke Energy), while Smith had the smallest (with $15,001 to $50,000 in Marathon Oil).

Government watchdogs like Ward would like to see stricter ethical rules that would end conflicts between the "public good" and stock profits, but they know it's a long shot. Congress has a long and hallowed history of looking the other way in such matters.

Brian Stauffer
Bob Graham buys into  the companies  he governs.  Can you  say conflict?
Bob Graham buys into the companies he governs. Can you say conflict?

In the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call, two congressmen, Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Maurice Hinchey (D-New York), wrote a 1995 guest editorial about stock-ownership conflicts in Congress headlined "Divest Now! Members Should Purge Stock Portfolios of Conflicts."

"Hardly a week goes by in the 104th Congress without new revelations about some Members voting in committee or on the House or Senate floor on matters in which they hold personal stock holdings or other financial interests...," Sanders and Hinchey wrote. "Little wonder that many Americans have come to believe cynically that Members of Congress take care of themselves first and the people's business afterward."

Nothing has changed, which means that Graham will likely skate ethically for his stock buys. But he may pay politically.

At another Democratic presidential forum in Iowa, this one on May 17, moderator Gerald McEntee, an AFL-CIO official, asked: "Halliburton and Bechtel corporations, with high connections to current and former Bush administration officials, are making hundreds of millions of dollars already in Iraq. How would you prevent this kind of war profiteering?"

McEntee's query went to Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, but several Democratic contenders, including Graham, were there to hear it.

Graham himself has criticized the Halliburton contracts on the campaign trail, but he's never owned up to owning as much as $15,000 in Halliburton stock, which he bought on November 5, 2001, seven weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Now it didn't take a chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Graham was at the time, to know that Halliburton was going to profit from September 11. The company had a track record of gaining federal contracts related to wars in the Middle East, beginning with Desert Storm. Was the senator banking on the idea that the new terror war would profit Halliburton and, in turn, himself?

Jarding says absolutely not. But Halliburton, since September 11, has profited spectacularly from the "War on Terror" -- reaping a windfall of at least $600 million worth of work so far from no-bid contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Graham, for his part, lost money on the Halliburton investment. The Halliburton stock price, which was about $23 when he bought it, plummeted just a month later amid concerns about multimillion-dollar judgments against the company in asbestos lawsuits. Graham sold all the Halliburton paper on December 7, a day the stock plunged 40 percent, down to just $12.

"Obviously, this was another poor investment for the Grahams," campaign officials wrote in their response to this article. "The issue of war profiteering has nothing to do with the stockholders or employees of Halliburton...

"The issue Senator Graham and others have made... is that the administration has close ties with the corporate heads of Halliburton and that Halliburton received the Iraqi contract without a bid, which is against government bidding regulations."

Another matter the Democrats will likely try to use next year against President Bush is the administration's inaction during the California energy crisis. But here again, Graham's stock buys might hamstring any hope he has of capitalizing on the issue.

Graham clearly knows that California, with its 54 electoral votes and thousands of big-money political donors, is a key state for Democratic presidential contenders. He's already made two trips to the state during the past few months.

But his purchase of Duke Energy stock could haunt him. Duke was more than just a company that owned two nuclear reactors -- it was also deeply involved in the energy crisis that hit California in 2000 and 2001.

On November 5, 2001, the same day the Halliburton stock was purchased, Graham invested $15,000 to $50,000 in the company. At that time, it was common knowledge that Duke was suspected of gouging California residents during the crisis, which saw electricity rates surge as much as 500 percent.

Early on in the crisis, which began in 2000 after the state deregulated the energy market, industry experts suspected that several companies, led by Enron, were creating fake electricity shortfalls to drive up prices. In 2001, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on which Graham sat, held four emergency hearings on the energy crisis, beginning January 29. The Capitol talk was cheap, however, and little was accomplished.

In June of that year, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee took the lead and in a June 20 hearing, California Gov. Gray Davis complained that companies had bilked his state out of about $9 million while the federal government did nothing.

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