Md. members of Congress invested well last year


If it's July, it must be time for "Portfolios of the (Semi-) Rich and Clueless," our annual peek inside the bank and brokerage accounts of Maryland's elected officials in Washington.

Each spring members of Congress must disclose the nature and rough value of their investments and borrowings. Aside from their prurient allure - catering to what financial scribe Allan Sloan used to call the "financial voyeur" in us all - the forms shed light on the fiscal talent of the people managing a $2.5 trillion federal budget.

Not surprisingly, members of Congress manage their personal finances about as well as they run the country. That is to say, sometimes they mark successes, and sometimes they make mistakes. And sometimes they really mess up.

The latest disclosures, posted online by Political Money Line, cover 2005, which was a pretty good year for the stock market and a good year for our contestants.

Nobody matched - or probably ever will match - the exquisitely infelicitous timing of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who loaded up on technology stocks in March 2000, the tiptop of the bubble, and dumped stocks in October 2002, the rock bottom of the bear market.

In fact, Mikulski had a good 2005. In January and March she sank between $1,000 and $15,000 into each of two international stock funds, which proved to be the best-performing equity class of the year.

Since then Mikulski's stake in T. Rowe Price's Spectrum International Fund is up 25 percent, and her piece of Dodge & Cox's International Stock Fund is up 22 percent. (Because she and other members of Congress owned investments discussed here at the end of last year, I'm assuming they still do. If they subsequently sold, they may have missed some of this year's returns.)

She also bought T. Rowe Price's Mid-Cap Value Fund, which has returned 16 percent. The investments she discarded to buy those funds - a health technology fund, a municipal bond fund and a small-cap stock fund, haven't done nearly as well.

She owned several other Price funds, including between $15,000 and $50,000 of its Real Estate fund, which has delivered 31 percent since the beginning of 2005. She also had between $50,000 and $100,000 in a bank certificate of deposit. The rate and term weren't disclosed, so we can't tell how well or whether she played the recent rise in interest rates.

While Mikulski is partial to T. Rowe Price, Rep. C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, of Baltimore County, likes another Baltimore firm, Legg Mason.

He had between $100,000 and $250,000 in Legg Mason's Value Trust, run by the famous Bill Miller, which has beaten the S&P; 500 15 years in a row but which is about even since the beginning of last year. (Another Value Trust investor is Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, of Southern Maryland, who owned an even bigger piece: between $250,000 and $500,000 worth.)

Ruppersberger had between $250,000 and $500,000 in Legg Mason's Special Investment Trust, a mid-cap fund that has delivered only 6 percent since the start of last year.

He probably made up for it, however, through ownership in an asset class that has been even hotter than international stocks: Ocean City real estate. Ruppersberger's rental property there was worth between $250,000 and $500,000 at the end of the year and delivered between $5,000 and $15,000 in income, the filings show.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, of Western Maryland, kept his grip on the most fabulous asset of all last year: precious metals.

A year ago he listed metals worth between $50,000 and $100,000. At the end of 2005 the stake's value was up to between $100,000 and $250,000. And no wonder. Between the start of last year and May, gold rose by two-thirds and silver doubled, although each has fallen recently. Platinum, if he owns any, rose by "only" half. His unspecified Putnam bond fund, bought in March 2005, probably didn't do so well.

Few Maryland congressmen made money on the balloon in energy prices.

One exception was Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County. He owned Exxon Mobil stock worth between $1,000 and $5,000, which has returned 25 percent since early 2005. His shares of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer have lost 9 percent since then, however.

At least one member of Congress appears to have spruced up his portfolio for campaign purposes. As public unhappiness rose in March against Baltimore Gas and Electric and its parent, Constellation Energy, Baltimore's Benjamin L. Cardin jettisoned Constellation stock worth $2,716. Then he let everybody know by listing the sale on his disclosure, even though it doesn't have to be reported until next year.

Cardin, who's running for the Democratic nomination to replace retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, told The Sun's Gwyneth Shaw two weeks ago that he inherited the stock from his father.

Speaking of Sarbanes, he wins again in the category of most boring portfolio. The guy owns zero individual stocks and one yawner mutual fund. (TIAA-CREF Managed Allocation; return since the start of 2005: 7 percent.) Aside from his house, most of his net worth is in savings accounts and a life insurance policy.

That makes for sound policy deliberation; fewer stock holdings means fewer potential conflicts of interest to taint a senator's vote. But it's tough on financial voyeurs.

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