Md. caucus does well with own funds

The Baltimore Sun

Which Maryland congressman owed more than $10,000 in credit-card debt last year? Which one lost tens of thousands of dollars investing in his brother-in-law's company? Which Maryland senator gave the old portfolio a political face-lift?

The answers, in the forms that senators and representatives just filed showing the previous year's financial activity, are worth a peek. If the measure of a man is revealed first in his friendships and second in what he reads, where he puts his money can't be far behind.

Maryland congressmen managed their own finances better last year than they managed the nation's. The government spent a quarter-trillion dollars more than it collected, but in general Maryland representatives and senators appeared sensible with debt and rode a bull stock market to nice gains.

Maybe no investment did better than the $15,000 to $50,000 (the forms don't give exact amounts) that Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski held in the T. Rowe Price Real Estate Fund.

The fund, which returned 37 percent for 2006, was a contrarian play because the real estate market was known to be eroding. But managers wisely shunned homebuilders and residential mortgages for commercial real estate trusts, which delivered another great year. In 2007, however, the fund has declined in value.

Mikulski is one of the most aggressive and active investors in the delegation, although she avoids individual stocks. She did well last year with Dodge & Cox International Fund ($15,000-$50,000, up 28 percent), T. Rowe Price Midcap Value Fund ($1,000- $15,000, up 20 percent) and T. Rowe Price Smallcap Value Fund ($15,000-$50,000, up 20 percent.)

But she missed big gains by bailing out too early from T. Rowe Price's Global Technology Fund (up 36 percent since she sold) and its Spectrum International Fund (up 44 percent since she sold).

As Mikulski's results show, international markets again produced large profits last year.

But few other of Maryland's elected representatives owned foreign investments, which from a supposedly sophisticated crowd is surprising.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin had $15,000 to $50,000 in Putnam's Global Growth Fund (up 23 percent last year) and $50,000 to $100,000 in Morgan Stanley's Global Dividend Growth Fund (up 12 percent). Rep. Chris Van Hollen, whose father was a diplomat, owned no foreign investments.

Last year, before seeking and winning the Senate seat left vacant by Paul S. Sarbanes, Cardin sold all his stock in Constellation Energy, Pfizer and Bristol-Myers - each a political target.

Constellation owns Baltimore Gas and Electric, which announced a 70 percent electricity-price increase for homeowners last year. Pfizer and Bristol have been criticized for charging high pill prices, and Bristol has said it is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

"He sold them to avoid any appearance of conflict," said spokeswoman Susan Sullam.

The worst investments came from the portfolio of House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer.

He owned stock worth $1,000 to $15,000 in Digital Angel, which makes implantable microchips for tracking livestock or pets by satellite. Digital Angel declined 17 percent last year.

And he owned $50,000 to $100,000 in stock of Telkonet, a Germantown company that pipes Internet signals through a building's electrical circuits and whose chief executive is his brother-in-law, Ronald W. Pickett.

Telkonet, which Hoyer has been buying since 2002, fell 36 percent last year and has lost another 37 percent this year as losses mounted. The company hasn't made money in at least five years. In 2004 his Telkonet stake was worth $100,000 to $250,000. Yesterday the stock closed at $1.65, far from the $6 neighborhood it occupied at the end of 2004.

Why is the majority leader hanging on? "I'm waiting for it to go up," he quipped through a spokesman.

Some aspects of the Maryland caucus' wallet haven't changed.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett is still heavily into precious metals ($100,000-$250,000), real estate (more than $1 million) and cash ($250,000-$500,000 at Frederick County Bank). He owns no stocks or stock mutual funds. Rep. C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger still has lots of money ($365,000-$800,000) managed by Legg Mason and also owns $15,000 to $50,000 in Legg Mason stock.

Home mortgages aren't listed, but nobody seems to be abusing debt in their personal lives the way Congress is with the national budget.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings owed $50,000 to $100,000 to CitiMortgage, but it was secured by a rental property worth far more.

Rep. John P. Sarbanes owed $10,000 to $15,000 on a credit card, but spokeswoman Pia Carusone says that it came with a very low interest rate and that Sarbanes used the proceeds to buy a 2006 minivan for his family.

Sarbanes' other car, she hastens to note, is a 1992 Subaru. "This is a very frugal family," she said. "We're trying to see if he drives the biggest beater in Congress."

If only they behaved the same way with taxpayers' money.

jay.hancock@baltsun.com

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