Monday, May 10, 2004

Ever since his 1996 Senate re-election campaign, Sen. John Kerry has made liberal use of millions of dollars from his second wife’s inheritance. Now that he has become the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee — a timely infusion of more than $6 million facilitated by his wife’s $500 million wealth — Mr. Kerry and his spouse, Teresa Heinz Kerry, now claim that divulging her tax returns would constitute a violation of a “right to privacy.” Meanwhile, Mrs. Heinz Kerry, whom her husband describes as his “graceful and unbelievable partner in this effort,” poses for Newsweek cover-story photos and accuses the vice president of being “unpatriotic.” Even for a candidate who insists on having it both ways on so many issues, this is truly an audacious gambit.

For more than a year, Mrs. Heinz Kerry has threatened to unleash her immense wealth by embarking on an “independent” issue-ads campaign in support of her husband’s candidacy. The prospect remains. In 1996, at the last minute, she gave his Senate campaign a $1.7 million loan that probably meant the difference in Mr. Kerry’s narrow victory, which he won with 52 percent of the vote.

As recently as December, after the Kerry campaign had been able to raise a mere $6 million during the last six months of 2003, Mr. Kerry drew heavily upon his wife’s wealth once again. Unable to tap her wealth directly, Mr. Kerry instead took out a $6.4 million mortgage for 50 percent (the maximum available to him) of the appraised value of the Beacon Hill house in Boston that he jointly owned with his wife. Interestingly, earlier in 2003, Boston’s Assessing Department, which is required to assess property at “fair market value,” valued the house at $6.6 million. That was a stunning $6.2 million less than the $12.8 million assessment provided in December by Mellon Bank, which made the $6.4 million loan to Mr. Kerry and with whom Mrs. Heinz Kerry has had a longtime relationship.

Mellon Bank’s eyebrow-raising assessment enabled Mr. Kerry to provide his destitute campaign with $3 million more than he could have borrowed based on the city’s assessment. And while the Beacon Hill home is jointly owned by the senator and his wife, the New York Times recently reported that the house was purchased with her money.

Having twice used her immense wealth to rescue her second husband’s faltering political career, Mrs. Heinz Kerry now claims a highly dubious “right to privacy.” Her failure to disclose her returns would make her the first spouse to shield this information in the three decades during which presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses have routinely made this information public. Mr. Kerry, who has twice exploited his wife’s wealth in the past and stands ready to benefit from it again if she makes good her threat to unleash an “independent” issue-ads campaign, once again expects to have it both ways, just as he has done on matters of policy.

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