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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Estimate of Heinz Fortune Doubled

John F. Kerry's wife oversees assets worth about $1 billion, a new Times analysis indicates.

June 27, 2004|Ralph Vartabedian | Times Staff Writer

President Bush's disclosure statement shows assets estimated by The Times at about $13 million, including his large ranch in Texas. The value of the Bush family assets, managed by former President George H.W. Bush, is not known.

The most difficult former president to assess is Kennedy, whose father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was still alive during his presidency and was worth perhaps $200 million to $400 million, according to historians at the Kennedy library -- an amount equal to $1.3 billion to $2.6 billion when adjusted for inflation.

President Kennedy's share of the income from the Kennedy trust was $500,000 annually, according to the book "Wills of the Presidents." Political experts say that Kennedy was personally worth perhaps only $20 million when he was elected president, or $124 million today. But Kennedy enjoyed the largess of his father, including payments for his wife's personal expenses, the use of family yachts, and access to estates in Cape Cod and Florida.

If Kerry is elected, he will join a long list of presidents who were helped by their wife's wealth. Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler, LBJ and William McKinley also married into wealth, said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a leading authority on first ladies.

"George Washington married the wealthiest woman in the colony of Virginia," he added.

Heinz Kerry inherited a vast fortune from Sen. Heinz, who was killed in a 1991 private aircraft accident. Heinz, formally H.J. Heinz III, was the fourth generation of the Pittsburgh family famous for its ketchup and other food products.

The money is held mainly by seven trust funds and several other investment accounts set up to benefit her and her three children, as well as to provide for charitable contributions. Heinz Kerry's money is generally kept separate from her husband's, according to the Senate disclosure report.

The business affairs are managed by the Heinz Family Office, located in an upscale office building just two blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. Besides overseeing the family business, the office helps manage Heinz Kerry's many public policy programs.

In addition to her family holdings, Heinz Kerry controls three large nonprofit corporations in Pittsburgh and Washington that have a combined $1.2 billion in assets, according to Internal Revenue Service filings. They have a wide-ranging agenda, supporting the arts, education, women's health, the environment and much more.

Tax records show that she supplements those activities with separate money from family trusts. For example, she provides at least $6.5 million annually to the Heinz Family Foundation, a nonprofit corporation, to help its activities.

She also separately supports half a dozen programs that involve environmentalism and archeology in another unregistered organization -- the Teresa and H. John Heinz III Foundation -- that does not file tax returns.

Political experts predict the Kerrys will be compelled to disclose more about their assets and perhaps place them in a blind trust if Kerry wins the election.

Heinz Kerry has not said whether she will continue to oversee her personal assets or the family trusts if Kerry is elected. A Kerry spokesman said Friday that these issues had yet to be seriously considered. However, she has said repeatedly that she would not step down from her leadership of her philanthropic corporations.

A key issue is whether a Kerry presidency would be hobbled by conflicts of interest or the appearance of them because of her holdings or active trading. "It is hard to imagine that it would not cause conflicts," said Phillips, the author. "They should have thought of this long ago."

Leon E. Panetta, White House chief of staff under President Clinton, agreed that although the amount of Heinz Kerry's wealth was not a campaign issue, it could cause problems if Kerry were elected.

"They will have to seriously consider putting it in a blind trust," Panetta said. "All of us who have served in government have had to do that. In the end, it is the better way to go, because it removes any suspicion that a decision is self-serving. You have enough problems just making a decision, without dealing with the concern you may be putting money in your pocket."

(Trusts are legal vehicles dating back hundreds of years that hold assets for the benefit of others. They are generally used by the wealthy to minimize taxes and eliminate long probate proceedings. A blind trust puts management of money outside the view of its beneficiaries.)

No specific law requires the president, much less the first lady, to put assets in a blind trust, said Stan Brand, a federal government ethics expert and Washington attorney. In fact, federal law says almost nothing about the first lady, though she does get protection and funding for an office.

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