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Market Plunge Could Affect Campaigns

You don’t have to tell Sen. Joe Lieberman that Wall Street can be risky these days. The Connecticut Independent reported losing nearly $188,000 of campaign money in the stock market during the last two and a half years.

It is unknown how many campaigns are currently playing the stock market with their contributors’ money, though some 1,500 committees have cash on hand and there are no rules preventing them from investing it for profit.

The Federal Election Commission only requires candidates to disclose the amounts and dates for campaign transactions and the financial institutions involved, but it is not always clear that the payments are investments. The agency does not instruct campaigns to list individual stocks, bonds or other securities.

Lieberman’s losses consist of diversified funds and holdings in more than 150 companies during the last two and a half years.

“Just like many Americans do, Friends of Joe Lieberman has invested its funds in a variety of ways, some of which are subject to market fluctuations,” Sherry Brown, deputy treasurer of Friends of Joe Lieberman, said in a written statement. “As the committee draws down its assets in the coming years, we expect to see a positive return on our total investments.” Lieberman has announced he will not run for re-election next year.

Some of the companies listed on Leiberman’s disclosure forms include a few of the top 10 contractors for the Department of Homeland Security, such as IBM, Boeing Co. and General Dynamics Corp. Lieberman is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, but Brown said specific investment decisions are not made by the Senator, which removes potential conflicts of interest.

“Investment decisions are made by a fund manager, and the majority of the contributions are invested in mutual funds — not in individual stocks,” Brown said. “As always, Friends of Joe Lieberman scrupulously follows all campaign laws and regulations.”

While Lieberman’s campaign lost thousands of dollars since 2009, Sen. Charles Schumer made more than $1.3 million through interest and capital gains by investing his campaign contributions — the most of anyone in Congress whose investments can be tracked.

The old adage that “it takes money to make money” applies aptly to the New York Democrat, who started his 2010 cycle with almost $10.6 million in cash on hand and made profits equal to more than 12.3 percent of that initial sum over the next two and a half years.

FEC documents state only that these new receipts came from a combination of “interest” and “capital gain,” offering no details on which investments Schumer’s campaign did so well with in the market.

“The earnings are mostly via investments in corporate bonds and CDs,” said an aide to Schumer who could not rule out whether a small amount of money was invested in stocks. “The campaign’s rule is to invest in safe products that don’t have extreme highs or lows.”

The aide added that Schumer — who serves on the Banking and Finance committees — does not have any conflicts of interest because he does not decide which securities to buy.

“The investment decisions are made independently and without the knowledge of the Senator or his senate staff,” the aide said.

Campaign finance experts say candidates and lawmakers should be careful when investing their extra cash on hand.

“If you put your money in an asset that is risky, be prepared to lose the money,” said Jan Baran, who is a senior partner at the Wiley Rein law firm and specializes in campaign finance. “And if you lose the money, be prepared to answer to your donors.”

Baran said lawmakers’ desire to invest in the market is exacerbated by current interest rates, which pay very little on certificates of deposit and savings.

These investment choices can have a lasting effect on campaigns if the market turns. For instance, when the mortgage crisis hit the stock market in 2008, Rep. Joe Barton lost $700,000. But the Texas Republican has been more profitable in 2011, netting more than $64,000 so far this year, even though he lost nearly $25,000 during the second quarter.

The campaign of Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) lost $168,000 on investments during the 2010 campaign cycle, the most of any House Member. The Financial Services chairman has yet to report any major investment transactions during the 2012 cycle.

A few weeks ago, the campaign of former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) reported losing $150,000 during the second quarter of 2011 from a real estate deal that went sour. Instead of a CD, the campaign invested money in a Palm Beach house.

But about two and a half years ago, the house went into foreclosure, said Eric Johnson, Wexler’s former chief of staff.

“Finally, after time was exhausted looking at legal options to recoup it, he just decided he was not in Congress anymore so he just finally wrote off the loss,” he said. “This investment was a loss, but the campaign over the course with this investor did quite well.”

Money markets, savings accounts and certificates of deposit appear to be common investment choices since 2009 as about 200 candidates and lawmakers have reported millions of dollars in interest and dividends.

Some of those with significant interest earned during the past two and a half years include: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who made $964,000 from interest on a campaign account that now exceeds $17.2 million; Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who listed $163,000 from CDs and interest; and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has made $148,000 since 2009.

Like Wexler, a number of campaigns of former lawmakers are no longer actively soliciting contributions for elections but are still making significant funds though investments.

Just this year, for instance, the campaign of former Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.) made more than $50,000 from securities, while former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) raised $28,000 and former Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) garnered more than $14,000 through investments.

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