Monday, July 26, 2004

How many faltering campaigns must Teresa Heinz Kerry underwrite for husband John Kerry before voters are entitled to see her tax returns?

In 1996, the heiress, who married Mr. Kerry the year before, funneled nearly $2 million in a loan to her husband’s tightly fought Senate re-election campaign. The last-minute cash infusion almost certainly meant the difference in Mr. Kerry’s narrow, 52 percent victory.

Late last year, when Mr. Kerry’s faltering campaign was on life-support after the party’s donor base abandoned him en masse, Mrs. Heinz Kerry’s wealth rescued him again. The flight was so pronounced that the Massachusetts Democrat raised less than $750,000 per month during the fourth quarter, as Howard Dean raked in more than $30 million during the second half of 2003. In the face of the Dean campaign roaring ahead on the eve of Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s primary in January, Mr. Kerry needed to raise the most money possible by mortgaging his half share of the Boston mansion he jointly owned with his wife, whose liquid assets were used, according to the New York Times, to purchase the house initially.

If Mr. Kerry wanted to capitalize on the decades-long relationship his wife and the Heinz family had with the Pittsburgh-based Mellon Bank financial conglomerate, he would naturally be drawn to Mellon’s local subsidiary, the Mellon Bank of New England. Last year, Boston’s Assessing Department placed a $6.6 million value on the Kerrys’ Beacon Hill townhouse. Mortgaging half of it at that assessment would have yielded only $3.3 million for Mr. Kerry’s desperate campaign, or less than two-thirds what the front-running Mr. Dean easily raised each month. Fortunately for Mr. Kerry, Mellon Bank nearly doubled the house’s assessed value to $12.8 million. That enabled the financially desperate Mr. Kerry to extract a $6.4 million mortgage from the house his wife purchased. It would be enough to help him through the New Hampshire primary a month later, after which his momentum in the Democratic primaries was unstoppable.

In recent decades, voters have rightly expected the presidential and vice presidential nominees to disclose their tax returns, including the tax returns of their spouses, if they were filed separately. Indeed, there is precedent. Twenty years ago, John Zaccaro, husband of Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, yielded to public pressure and disclosed his separately filed income-tax returns. Prior and subsequent to Mr. Zaccaro’s financial disclosures, there was no indication that his personal wealth had been used to regularly resurrect his wife’s political career. Today, why should the tax returns of Mr. Kerry’s wealthy wife remain under wraps, particularly since he has clearly exploited his wife’s wealth for his political advantage?

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