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US lawmakers 'have financial interests' in America's wars.

Byline: Inter Press Service

Summary: US lawmakers have a financial interest in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a review of financial documents has revealed. Members of Congress invested nearly $196 million of their own money in companies that receive hundreds of millions of dollars a day from Pentagon contracts to provide goods.

Abid Aslam

Inter Press Service

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers have a financial interest in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a review of financial documents has revealed. Members of Congress invested nearly $196 million of their own money in companies that receive hundreds of millions of dollars a day from Pentagon contracts to provide goods and services to US armed forces, say nonpartisan watchdog groups.

David Petraeus, the top US general in Iraq, has been briefing the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees Tuesday and Wednesday. These latest financial findings are unlikely to have a significant impact on this week's proceedings but could stoke anti-incumbent sentiment in this year's presidential and legislative elections.

Lawmakers charged with overseeing Pentagon contractors hold stock in those very firms, as do vocal critics of the war in Iraq, says the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

Senator John Kerry, the Democrat from Massachusetts who staked his 2004 presidential bid in part on his opposition to the war, tops the list of investors. His holdings in firms with Pentagon contracts of at least $5 million stood at between $28.9 million and $38.2 million as of December 31, 2006. Kerry sits on the Senate foreign relations panel.

Members of Congress are required to report their personal finances every year but only need to state their assets in broad ranges.

Other top investors include Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican with holdings of $12.1 million-$49.1 million; Representative Robin Hayes, a North Carolina Republican ($9.2 million-$37.1 million); Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin ($5.2 million-$7.6 million); and Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat ($2.7 million-$6.3 million).

Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Democrat and former governor of West Virginia who chairs the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, invested some $2 million in Pentagon contractors.

Other panel chiefs who invested in defense firms include Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut Independent who presides over the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Representative Howard Berman, the California Democrat who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In all, 151 current members of Congress - more than one-fourth of the total - have invested between $78.7 million and $195.5 million in companies that received defense contracts of at least $5 million, according to CRP.

These companies received more than $275.6 billion from the government in 2006, or $755 million per day, says budget watchdog group OMB Watch.

The investments yielded lawmakers $15.8 million-$62 million in dividend income, capital gains, royalties and interest from 2004 through 2006, says CRP.

Not all the firms deal in arms or military equipment. Some make soft drinks or medical supplies, and military contracts represent a small fraction of their revenues. Many are leaders in their industries and, as such, feature in the investment portfolios of millions of ordinary people who invest at least a portion of their savings in mutual funds, which in turn hold stocks in up to hundreds of companies.

"Giant corporations outside of the defense sector - such as Pepsi, IBM, Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson - have received defense contracts and are all popular investments for both members of Congress and the general public," says CRP.

"So common are these firms, both as personal investments and as defense contractors, it would appear difficult to build a diverse blue-chip stock portfolio without at least some of them," the group acknowledges.

If some of the stocks appear innocent, aides say legislators also are. Some did not buy the stocks in question but inherited them. Many hold them in blind trusts, so called because the investments are handled by independent entities, at least theoretically without the politicians' knowledge of how their assets are being managed.

Even so, says CRP, owning stock in firms under contract with the Pentagon could prove "problematic for members of Congress who sit on committees that oversee defense policy and budgeting." Members of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees held $3 million-$5.1 million in firms specializing in weapons and other exclusively military goods and services, it added.

Critics have assailed President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for their ties to companies seen as benefiting from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Bush was characterized as pushing conflict in the interest of the oil fraternity whence he hailed.

Before becoming vice president, Cheney headed Halliburton, a major player in the oil-services industry and the object of controversies involving political connections, government contracts and business ethics.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Apr 10, 2008
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