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Gottheimer, anti-vaping advocate, gets tobacco campaign cash and dividends

Stock ownership legal but creates bad optics

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., has profited from tobacco companies.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., has profited from tobacco companies. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Since coming to Congress in 2017, Rep. Josh Gottheimer has sponsored legislation to more tightly regulate tobacco products and aligned himself with a coalition of colleagues who advocate curbs on youth vaping — all while investing in a Fortune 200 tobacco conglomerate and receiving money from that firm’s political action committee.

At a 2019 event in which Gottheimer announced a “war on youth vaping,” the New Jersey Democrat listened intently as high schoolers recounted the perils of young people using e-cigarettes, such as JUUL, during the school day and even in class.

Months later, in February 2020, Gottheimer touted the House’s passage of anti-vaping legislation he co-sponsored.

“The passage of this bipartisan bill today attacks the epidemic at every angle and includes measures I called for last fall, like banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products and not allowing the sale of these incredibly harmful products to those under the age of 21,” Gottheimer said in a statement at the time.

The three-term congressman’s 2019 annual financial disclosure report — the most recent, comprehensive look available into his holdings that Gottheimer filed in August 2020 — shows stock in Altria Group, Inc. and Philip Morris International Inc. 

Gottheimer in 2019 earned between $400 and $2,000 in dividends from companies that sell tobacco products, according to a CQ Roll Call review of his financial disclosures. Members of Congress are only required to report such purchases in pre-set ranges.

Altria has a 35 percent ownership in JUUL Labs, Inc. Altria describes JUUL as “the nation’s leading e-vapor company.” Gottheimer earned between $200 and $1,000 in dividends from his $1,000 to $15,000 financial interest in Altria. He also earned between $200 and $1,000 in dividends from his $1,000 to $15,000 holding in Philip Morris International, a tobacco company that sells IQOS VEEV, an e-cigarette.

Gottheimer’s estimated net worth was more than $8.9 million in 2018, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics of Gottheimer’s disclosure for that year, which was filed in 2019.

Gottheimer has also received $10,500 in campaign contributions from Altria Group, Inc. Political Action Committee (AltriaPAC) since 2017, according to Federal Election Commission records. In the 2020 election cycle, Gottheimer raised about $7.8 million for his campaign, so the amount from Altria represents a small portion of what he raised.

While holding stock in companies is perfectly legal, some groups who advocate for minimizing the effects of moneyed interests in politics say it is a bad look.

“His monetary portfolio doesn’t really reflect his supposed strong values and I think that a lot of the public very much feels like members of Congress say things without necessarily believing them and actions don’t necessarily reflect their words, and I think that this is another example of that,” Danielle Caputo, a legislative affairs counsel at Issue One, said.

A spokesperson for Gottheimer said the congressman’s financial assets are managed by a third party and have no influence on the positions he takes on policy.

“Prior to taking office, Josh turned over management of his portfolio to a third party and only receives statements of prior transactions. All decisions related to buying and selling of securities can be done so without Josh’s knowledge or approval,” Gottheimer spokesperson James Adams said in a statement.

Gottheimer continued to buy Altria stock into 2021. On Jan. 11, he bought between $1,000 and $15,000 worth of Altria securities, according to his most recent periodic transaction report. He also bought securities in Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and, among other companies, in the same dollar range, as reflected in the most recent transaction report. All of these are joint holdings the congressman owns with his spouse.

Asked whether now that Gottheimer knows about the investments in Altria and Philip Morris International if he intended to keep them, his spokesperson repeated that he has no active engagement with managing the portfolio and added: “He will continue his fight to protect children from the harmful effects of vaping.”

Asked whether, when he was elected to Congress, Gottheimer instructed his broker to avoid investing in companies or funds that are antithetical to his policies, Adams said: “All decisions related to buying and selling of securities are done so without Josh’s approval.”

His spokesperson also said the contributions from Altria had no bearing on the positions the New Jersey Democrat has taken.

“That’s clearly had no influence on his fight to protect children from the harmful effects of vaping,” Adams said.

Gottheimer is not alone in investing in tobacco stocks among members of Congress, nor is he alone in taking a position against youth vaping while having financial interests in tobacco.

For example, his old colleague in the Congressional Caucus to End the Youth Vaping Epidemic, former Rep. T.J. Cox, D-Calif., earned up to $200 in dividends from his $1-$1,000 stake in Altria stock, according to his 2019 annual financial disclosure report.

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