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In a March 12 address to the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State John Kerry warned that climate change outranks terrorism, epidemics and poverty as the worst threat facing the world today. Our only salvation, he asserted, lies in an energy policy that replaces fossil fuels with solar, wind and other “clean energy.”
However, at the same time he gave this crisis speech, public records indicated that Secretary Kerry personally owned an estimated three to six million dollars in stocks of more than 50 oil and gas-related companies. Records from 2004 show that he’s been constantly and deeply invested in fossil fuels for at least a decade, and is still injecting millions in working capital into the very industries he condemns. What is the public to think of a cabinet-level prophet of climate doom who says one thing and does such another?
The discovery of this stunning hypocrisy emerged from fact checking research by Heartland Institute, after Kerry’s apocalyptic Atlantic Council speech. The finding raised two immediate questions:
How did such a financially vested nominee for Secretary of State get past the conflict of interest tests of the Office of Government Ethics and Senate confirmation?
And why does an ostensibly dedicated environmentalist own an oil-drenched investment portfolio? Kerry has been an outspoken advocate for the theory of anthropogenic global warming since the early 1990s and in 2007 co-authored This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future with his billionaire wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, a movement leader in her own right.
We can answer the first question with certainty, but not the second.
Begin with Senator John Kerry’s nomination to be Secretary of State on December 21, 2012: he was not only chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that would unanimously approve his nomination as one of their own; he was also the wealthiest member of the Senate, and the breadth of his investments would certainly present conflicts of interest.
Kerry owned 365 securities totaling $232,674,572 to $322,785,148, including contentious stock in ExxonMobil and a Canadian firm with ties to the Keystone XL pipeline, Cenovus Energy Inc., as posted on Open Secrets.org, website of the Center for Responsive Politics. Office holder assets and liabilities are reported only in value ranges rather than exact amounts, so precise net worth can’t be ascertained and is counted from the lower number.
Office of Government Ethics lawyers immediately vetted Kerry’s family wealth and his spouse’s Heinz ketchup fortune and determined that the new cabinet post required that the couple divest 140 different securities across three different trusts and that the new Secretary recuse himself from decisions with any ethical implications – but there was a catch.
On January 8, 2013, John Kerry signed an agreement letter to the government to relinquish specified assets within 90 days of taking the oath of office. He agreed to have his trustees segregate forbidden stocks, mostly large holdings of a single stock, into a custodial account and sell them off so questions could not come up. He also agreed to diversify and downsize his investments so that even the fossil fuel stocks qualified as “non-conflicting assets.” Kerry pledged to take no action as Secretary of State that would affect his financial interests “unless I first obtain a written waiver, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 208(b)(l), or qualify for a regulatory exemption, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 208(b)(2).”
Those bureaucratic loopholes explain how more than 50 oil and gas stocks made it past government lawyers into Kerry’s much slimmer 2013 financial report, but they don’t explain why the new Obama cabinet officer kept them.
Kerry simply wrote in his agreement letter, “Following divestiture, my segregated portfolio will hold only non-conflicting assets.” That was good enough for the Office of Government Ethics and the Senate confirmation vote.
We’ll never know the exact details of the divestiture because the Office of Government Ethics apologetically informs the online searcher looking for Kerry’s monthly reports for 2013 that “it appears the link you’ve selected is no longer available.” Financial records of Kerry’s first year as Secretary of State, January to December 2013, are all gone.
However, Secretary of State Kerry’s personally signed monthly financial reports for 2014 are intact from January to December and show a continuous stream of purchases of oil and gas stocks not seen in previous reports, Oasis Petroleum, R S P Permian, Diamond Offshore Drilling, and on and on. All the while he publicly denounced such firms without revealing his complicity in advancing their success.
Perhaps Kerry steadily pumps capital into oil and gas companies because he knows his rhetoric is deceitful, that climate change is not a crisis, and that the future of global civilization and human survival depends on fossil fuels. Perhaps he knows full well that the outcome of Obama’s energy policy will be to drive humanity into chaos that wrecks the Earth itself.
In this light, we can read his closing words to the Atlantic Council two ways, but which way did oil and gas investor Kerry really have in mind? He said, “Gambling with the future of Earth itself when we know full well what the outcome will be is just reckless. It is just plain immoral.”