The story is part of a series about lawmakers’ personal financial disclosures. OpenSecrets recently updated its personal finances database to include data from lawmakers’ most recent filings released last May.
Congress is tasked with regulating the most powerful and influential industries in the private sector. But lawmakers could lose massive chunks of their personal wealth if their legislation hurts those companies’ bottom lines.
In the most recent financial disclosures filed last year, lawmakers reported holding tens of millions of dollars in tech and pharmaceutical stocks. Congress continued to invest in these companies even as it debated how to deal with rising drug prices and tech giants’ intrusions of privacy.
Some lawmakers like to trade stocks. That fact became evident when Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) unloaded stocks after attending a private briefing that underscored the looming danger of COVID-19. Pharmaceutical companies are among lawmakers’ favorite stocks. As of the most recent financial disclosures, over 50 lawmakers reported investing upwards of six figures in the pharmaceutical and health products industry.
On the campaign trail, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) casts himself as a fighter who takes on big pharma. But his portfolio shows he’s profited from rising drug prices. Last year, he reported owning up to $2.1 million in stock in pharmaceutical and health products companies, investing in industry giants such as Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Abbott Laboratories, Eli Lilly & Co and Pfizer. In previous years, Kennedy was the top investor in Gilead Sciences, the drugmaker behind a controversially expensive hepatitis medication that is now working on COVID-19 treatment.
Kennedy, who is challenging Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), has also come under scrutiny for owning millions in oil company stock while running on climate issues. Kennedy inherited his assets in a family trust, but his 2019 financial disclosure showed his stocks weren’t in a blind trust.
Pfizer is one of the most popular stocks in Congress, with 48 lawmakers placing their bet on the drugmaker that hikes its prices each year. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the second most senior congressman, reported holding between $1 million and $5 million in Pfizer stock. Forty-seven lawmakers reported investing in Johnson & Johnson, despite the drugmaker’s role in the devastating opioid epidemic.
The pharmaceutical lobby has successfully defeated bill after bill that would limit the rising price of drugs. The industry coupled record lobbying spending with targeted campaign donations and direct appeals to President Donald Trump to ward off policy changes.
Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), the wealthiest member of the House, reported investing $3.6 million in pharmaceutical companies. He was the top investor in several industry giants including AbbVie, the Humira manufacturer that successfully killed generic competition for nearly two decades and fought off regulation from Congress. Most lawmakers disclose their assets in a wide range, but Gianforte provides transparency by choosing to disclose the exact amount of money he invests in each asset.
Gianforte recently purchased stock in companies that might benefit from the COVID-19 pandemic, including Roche Holding AG, which won emergency approval from the federal government to sell an automated COVID-19 test.
Tech companies among the most invested
Seventy-nine lawmakers reported holding shares of Apple, the world’s first trillion-dollar company. Apple enjoys investments from members of both parties, but Democrats are the biggest investors in the deep-pocketed iPhone maker.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who represents a San Francisco district that neighbors tech giants, reported owning up to $25.5 million in Apple stocks. Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, runs a venture capital firm that has helped make the Democratic leader one of the wealthiest members of Congress. He made a number of trades involving tech companies during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, including buying shares of Slack Technologies stock.
Microsoft is the second-most invested company. Sixty-five lawmakers owned stocks in the tech giant. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), a former Microsoft executive, owned up to $10 million in company stock. Another former Microsoft employee, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), held up to $5.2 million in Microsoft stock.
Tech companies are among the most popular assets for lawmakers, with 42 members invested in Google, 37 in Amazon and 34 in Facebook as of the most recent filings. Several ultra-wealthy members of Congress reported significant holdings in all five major tech companies, including Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a former banker, and Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.), a lottery winner.
Despite investing heavily in tech companies, Congress is making the industry a top target.
House Democrats are investigating major tech companies over antitrust issues, while the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission are running their own antitrust investigations. Congressional Democrats, including Pelosi, maintained a close relationship with companies like Google and Facebook for several years. But as the industry came under fire over privacy and antitrust issues, influential Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called for tech giants to be broken up.
Other Democrats reported seven-figure investments in big tech last year. Freshman Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) reported holding up to $5 million in Facebook stock. Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) reported owning up to $6.3 million in Apple stock, far more than any other investment.
Researcher Alex Baumgart contributed to this report.
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Karl joined the Center for Responsive Politics in October 2018. As CRP’s money-in-politics reporter, he writes and edits stories for the news section and helps manage a team of diligent writers. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Karl graduated from State University of New York at New Paltz in 2016 with a B.A. in journalism. He previously worked at The Globe, a regional newspaper based in Worthington, Minnesota. His email is [email protected]