Cheney mum, but his money talks

By Tom Blackburn
Palm Beach Post Columnist
Sunday, June 18, 2006

Vice President Dick Cheney's investment portfolio got a little attention among bloggers recently. Nobody really jumped on it. The rules are different for Republicans.

In theory, you can tell what a person expects from how he invests. The theory hasn't been applied to important public officials much before. Kiplinger's Personal Finance applied it to the Cheneys' financial disclosure statement and printed the analysis under the provocative headline, "Cheneys betting on bad news?"

The bad news would be of two kinds: A higher rate of inflation and a lower value for the dollar.

Kiplinger's got the inflation hint from the Cheneys' stakes in a fund that specializes in short-term municipal bonds, a tax-exempt money market fund and an inflation-protected securities fund. The first two hold up if interest rates rise with inflation. The third is protected against inflation. The disclosure statement provides ranges for the investments, so Kiplinger's could tell only that the Cheneys have between $10 million and $25 million in the municipal bonds, between $1 million and $5 million in the money market and between $2 million and $10 million in the inflation-protected securities.

The hint about a loss of value of the dollar comes from their $10 million to $25 million in a foreign, mainly European, bond fund. Of course, a weak dollar - which no government ever admits to encouraging - would help exports. That would help to cut the trade deficit. Not all "bad news" is bad news for everybody in all respects.

Does Mr. Cheney know something we don't? He always says he does, but that's when he talks about foreign affairs. Anyone, such as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, can see indications of inflation. On the question of the dollar's future, though, how vigorously the Treasury Department will defend its value could be a subject of inside information.

There is a caveat here. The vice president turned his money over to outside managers. Kiplinger's quotes Mr. Cheney's lawyer saying the vice president has "nothing to do" with his money.

You have to wonder, though. It's customary for top officials to put their money where they don't have day-to-day control of it. For some jobs, that's the law. Still, who could keep his lips locked if he knew something his money manager could cash in on? The hands-off approach is a fig leaf that the public demands, but a strong breeze will blow the leaf away.

Mr. Cheney's money market account and municipal bonds are tax-exempt. When he was young, Mr. Cheney said he had more important things to do than fight in Vietnam. Now that he is rich, he or his manager decided that he has more important things to do than help pay for a war he helped to start.

The vice president doesn't like it when people talk about his money. He told Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., to commit an impossible physical act on himself when the senator tried to twit him about his payments from the Halliburton Company. Friends say his deferred salary payments from Halliburton were earned while he was head of the company and have nothing to do with the company's contracts for the war he helped to start. And he says he is donating the profits on his more than 400,000 Halliburton stock options to charity.

But, as noted, he really thinks that his money is nobody else's business. If you add up the money in just the accounts Kiplinger's considered, he has between $23 million and $65 million invested. From its analysis. Kiplinger's figured that the Cheneys' total assets could be as much as $94.5 million.

That represents a considerable amount of saving for someone who spent most of his working life on the public payroll as a member of Congress or the executive branch. Mrs. Cheney earned $120,000 a year for a while on the Lockheed board for her expertise in whatever. She also wrote some books, but most or all of the royalties went to charity.

That $94 million would still be a nice pot for someone who spent only five years in the private sector. Maybe public service is more remunerative than people think. Maybe the Cheneys are better investors than Warren Buffett but are too modest to talk about it.

But if Harry Truman had left office with that kind of money stashed away Republicans would still be holding investigations of how he got it. The rules are different for them.