Washington • Secretary of State nominee John Kerry plans to divest holdings in dozens of companies in his family's vast financial portfolio to avoid possible conflicts of interest if he is confirmed by the Senate, according to a letter he released Wednesday.
The Massachusetts Democrat notified the State Department earlier this month that within 90 days of his confirmation he would move to sell off holdings in three trusts benefiting him and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry. In the Jan. 8 letter to the department's Office of the Legal Adviser, Kerry said he would not take part in any decisions that could affect those holdings until the investments are sold off. If he did have to take action before the assets were sold, Kerry said he would seek a waiver from the Office of Government Ethics.
Kerry was scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday during a hearing on his nomination.
Kerry is the wealthiest man in the Senate, worth more than $184 million, according to a 2011 Senate disclosure. His vast array of investments, intertwined with his wife's family fortune, contain more than 400 assets, ranging from bank securities to investments in defense contractors.
Dozens of those holdings are potential red flags, some because of their potential international diplomatic repercussions, others because they could pose problems in decisions that affect State Department contractors. Among the most potentially sensitive assets were Suncor and Cenovus Energy, both energy firms that could benefit if State, under Kerry, approved TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.
In the letter sent to Richard C. Visek, State's deputy legal adviser, Kerry cited Cenovus as one of more than 100 assets or family holdings that he would divest if confirmed by the Senate as secretary of state. Although not listed in his letter, Suncor is reportedly an underlying asset in a Heinz family trust. The letter disclosing Kerry's divestment plans was first reported by Politico.
Kerry said in the letter that he "will divest these assets within 90 days of my confirmation and will invest the proceedings in non-conflicting assets." He also said he would likely recuse himself from some decisions involving H.J. Heinz Co. because of his wife's investments in the firm through several trusts. Heiress to the Heinz ketchup fortune, Teresa Heinz Kerry is reportedly worth more than $1 billion, but she is not involved in the management of the food company.
Kerry said that his wife has also agreed to sell off several Mellon Bank holdings in several companies, ranging from cable giant Comcast to Sustainable Technologies Fund, a green energy-oriented private equity firm.
Among the holdings Kerry said he would shed are investments in Raytheon Co., a prominent State and defense contractor, and General Electric, a major government supplier. Kerry's letter indicates he also would recuse himself in any decisions involving 16 of Heinz's foreign-based subsidiaries, including a Shanghai Guofu LongFong Foods Co. in China.
Kerry's divestment plans were vetted by White House officials and require review and certification by the OGE to avoid possible conflicts of interest.