Edwards' words are at odds with his portfolio

Election 2004 : The Democratic Ticket

July 07, 2004|By JAY HANCOCK

MAYBE no Democratic presidential candidate went after big drug companies harder than John Edwards, the North Carolina senator who was named yesterday as John Kerry's vice presidential running mate.

Edwards said he would order the Justice Department to investigate "price gouging" by big pharmaceutical outfits. He would permit drug "reimportation," which would undercut manufacturers' profits by allowing U.S. patients to benefit from foreign price controls. He would sharply restrict pharmaceutical advertising.

All in all, he looks like a drug company's worst enemy. Be afraid, be very afraid, pharmaceutical shareholders. That includes you, John Edwards!

Turns out the senior Tarheel senator is a double beneficiary of alleged drug-company misdemeanors. On the campaign trail he gets to bray about the injustice of it all, and back home he collects the dividends of "price gouging" and adds them to his considerable net worth.

Edwards has been a fairly substantial shareholder (tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in combined drug stocks at various times) in Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Novartis, a rogues' gallery of lifesaving medicine makers, federal filings show. When those companies raise prices or air the TV ads Edwards likes to complain about, his investments go ka-ching.

And drug stocks are only part of the picture. Edwards, who hires an adviser to manage his investments instead of picking stocks, is a part-owner in numerous corporate oppressors. Who knew? He looks like a William Jennings Bryan-style populist on the outside, but open his wallet and he's J. Pierpont Morgan.

Or George W. Bush! Meet well-known oilman John R. Edwards. The senator has owned stock in Chevron Texaco, Exxon Mobil and Schlumberger. What about your efforts to crack down on energy polluters, ban drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and phase out polluting fuel additive MTBE, Mr. Senator? You're hurting yourself.

Edwards' total assets are worth between $14 million and $45 million, according to federal reports.

Any red-blooded American capitalist - take Legg Mason's Bill Miller, for example - would be as proud as a petunia of his portfolio.

Wait, Bill Miller is in the senator's portfolio. Edwards had more than $100,000 in Miller's renowned Legg Mason Value Trust at the end of last year, holding pieces of stocks such as Citigroup, Tyco and one of the health insurers Edwards excoriates, UnitedHealth Group.

Edwards, who voted to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq, also bought shares in defense corporations Lockheed Martin and United Technologies the week before the war began. Lockheed Martin makes Patriot missiles, among other hardware, and United Technologies makes Black Hawk helicopters.

The senator has also held stock and bond investments in DaimlerChrysler. You know DaimlerChrysler. Presidential candidate John Edwards shined a spotlight on the company earlier this year:

How DaimlerChrysler decided to shift frame production of its Dodge Ram truck to Mexico. How that forced its Milwaukee supplier, Tower Automotive, to move work to Mexico, too. How 500 Milwaukee jobs will disappear by the middle of next year as a result.

"I see the faces of the workers at Tower Automotive in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who I saw wondering, after the doors to their factory closed, where do they go, what do they do?" Edwards said in stump speeches.

"Have they not done the right things in America? Have they not worked hard, been responsible, raised their kids? Where do they go now? And will they have a president and an administration who understands their lives and who will stand up for them?"

Or will they have a vice president who talks about standing up for them and simultaneously owns stock in the company responsible for their layoffs?

OK, it's a complex world. Many of us own shares in companies - through mutual funds, if nothing else - whose every move we don't necessarily approve.

Edwards' assets had been in a blind trust for some time - meaning he wasn't supposed to know which securities advisers were buying and selling. But his name is on the stock certificates, the dividends end up in his account, and the investments are posted on the Internet for all to see by the Center for Responsive Politics. (www.- opensecrets.org).

Edwards has been such a critic of corporations that his participation in them as owner and lender, even if directed by someone else, looks a lot like hypocrisy. It's not like he needs the extra money.

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