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Much has been made of Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz's supposed 401k investments in Swiss banks as of late.  It's been reported on by multiple journalists.  Most of whom apparently can't even be bothered to read the PDF they've been linking to.  This is just really bad journalism.  The 401k doesn't even look to be hers.

I'm not going to go much into the background of these claims.  If you want more context, you might want to check out UncommonSense's uncommonly sensible diary from a couple days back.

I hadn't really paid much attention to the attacks on her until someone posted something on my brother's facebook page.  The fact it was "her" 401k struck me as odd - I'm no expert, but 401ks are generally managed by the company you work for (Unless you're self-employed).  Since she works for the government, not a company, I'd assume she couldn't actually put any more money into a 401k.  Also, when you stop working at a company, it's not uncommon to have to move the money into an IRA, at least if the 401k isn't that large.  Even if you don't, it's still often a good idea, since 401ks have limited asset choices.

So I spent a total of about 10 minutes looking into it.  This is my current understanding of the situation, with links to copies of the documents.  Looks to me like the new stories are all wrong, and really shoddy journalism.  And silly.

What's been reported
All the articles I read on this mention her 2010 financial disclosure form, and "her" $1k to $15k 401k investment in a fund that has assets in a Swiss bank account.  Then many either link to a PDF that supposedly shows these investments, or link to another article that does.  All of these links I looked at actually go to her 2004 form.

Some articles also mention her 2004 disclosure form (The one they actually linked to), and they complain about "her" investment in a an overseas Fidelity fund.

Since everyone, even those just reporting on the 2010 forms, linked to the 2004 forms (And some linked to none at all), it seems logical to conclude that only one journalist actually bothered to look at the actual forms, at most.  The others just copied the conclusions, without expending any effort at all.

The problem with the 2004 claims
If you open the link above, and look at the first page of Schedule III, you'll see a line that looks like "6P | 401k Retirement Account", grouped with the next 4 lines (5 total).  If you look above, you'll notice that the legal 2-letter codes are SP, DC, and JT.  So the "6P" is actually "SP", which means it's her spouse's account.  "JT" would mean joint, but that's not the label, so this is not a joint account, but rather one solely in her husband's name.  Every article I've seen claims it was hers.

Some may claim the difference doesn't matter, but when every article is printing a lie, and right wingers are screaming it with relish, I think it's worth pointing out.  Also, given the size of the investment relative to total combined portfolio size, and the fact it's not in her name, Representative Wasserman Schultz may well have had only minimal knowledge of / provided minimal input on what this money was invested in, though I don't think that's a terribly important point.

The fund in her 2004 disclosure people are complaining about is 2 lines below that.  "MFC Fidelity ATN. Overseas", it looks like.  Fidelity is also an American corporation, and reports people's incomes to the IRS, presumably, so can't be used to hide income, which is the reason why Swiss Bank accounts in particular are generally controversial.  This is a public fund that anyone could buy into.

A box is checked indicating the investment is less than $1k of the total portfolio of her and her spouse, which is over $165,000 total (Three entries on the next page are for $15k+, $50k+, and $100k+).  So less than 0.6% of the couple's combined financial assets were in her husband's 401k investment in this overseas fund.

The problem with the 2010 claims
Her actual 2010 forms, which no journalist linked to, are here.

The line of relevance is the second from the top of the second page of Schedule III (Typed this time, so easy to read).  $1k-$15k in "JH Financial Services fund".  There's an "SP" by it, too, so again it's her spouse's 401k, not hers, unlike what all the articles seem to claim.  JH Financial Services also looks to be based in the US, and their funds also appear to be available to the general public.

Looking at the fund's financial disclosure information (Which some journalists actually successfully managed to link to, if not report on), there are two entries journalists are harping on:  5% of their funds are in a Swiss bank (Not sure if it's ownership of or investment with), and 5.1% are in/with the State Bank of India.  Not mentioned is that all the other top 8 investments of the fund (Making up about 52.8% of its assets) are with US financial companies.  It's unclear what the remaining ~37.2% is invested in.

So that's $101 to $1,515 (10.1% of $1k-15k) in the funds in question, in her husband's 401k.  Their minimum possible assets are $110k - they have a lot more $1k-15k entries than before, and one $100k-250k entry (Looks like the Congresswomen's $50+k holding in the bank where her husband works was partially sold off, and they aren't reporting a lot in NJ in 2010 that they reported in 2004), so we're talking about between 0.04% and 1.4% of their total combined portfolio.  I doubt they even knew that they had any money invested in a Swiss bank.  That's part of the point of mutual funds - you don't have to think about individual assets.  There are 15 different mutual funds in his portfolio, with $1k to $15k in each of them.  I doubt she knows the top 10 holdings in each of her husband's mutual funds by heart, and wouldn't be surprised if neither she nor her husband had ever even looked at them for any of the funds.

I think it's also worth pointing out that whatever company her husband works for gets to choose what 401k options he has open to him, and this may well be the only financial services industry mutual fund he currently has access to.

Conclusion
This is silly.  Journalists are lazy.  And did I mention this is silly?

Also, if you see a right winger screaming "But Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz has a Swiss Bank account", you can kindly point out to them:

1)  No, she has no Swiss Bank account.
2)  Her husband also has no Swiss Bank account.
3)  Two years ago, her husband had a 401k account in his own name (Not a joint account) which owns shares in a publicly traded mutual fund.  This fund now has 5% of its assets invested in a Swiss Bank (Not clear if this was the case in 2010, actually).  This made up less than 0.7% of their total assets.  Since this is held through a mutual fund, it's also quite possible that neither she nor her husband was even aware of this holding.  Also, at least 50% of the fund's assets were in US financial companies.
4)  If every single Democrat currently in Congress had just as much invested in a Swiss Bank (242 of them now, I believe), Mitt Romney would still have at least 16 times as much in his account than they all do combined (Possibly as much as 247 times).  It's my understanding that he hasn't actually disclosed all his assets, so the number could be much higher.

9:16 AM PT: MarEng has pointed out in the comments that a 401k (And IRAs as well) cannot be jointly owned, so it would be impossible for the 401k to be a joint account, though the fact remains that it's her husband's account, think this is a fair point to mention.

Their largest assets appear to only in her husband's name ($100k+ in stock, not an IRA or 401k), and have few assets listed as jointly held, so I suspect that they're keeping the funds each of them earns in their own accounts.

Neither of these facts affects my understanding of the situation, but seems worth mentioning.


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Comment Preferences

  •  I did not spend as much time as you or look (14+ / 0-)

    at this in as much detail, but my understanding was that the fund owned some Swiss bank stock - which is quite different from having money invested in  a Swiss bank account.

    You can't scare me, I'm sticking to the Union - Woody Guthrie

    by sewaneepat on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 04:10:03 AM PDT

  •  D.W-S should hold a press conference (6+ / 0-)

    where she produces 10 years of her own tax returns and challenges Romney to do the same. This would make it a lot harder for the right wingers to make their knee-jerk equivalency claims.  

    She should point out that Romney has already submitted 23 years of tax returns to the McCain campaign so there shouldn't be any reason for him to refuse-unless, of course, he has something really big to hide.

    The world is a den of thieves and night is falling. -Ingmar Bergman

    by Pirogue on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 04:59:42 AM PDT

  •  D. W-S. should hold a press conference (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nailbanger

    where she produces 10 years worth of tax returns and challenges Romney to do the same. This would make it a lot more difficult for the right-wingers to make their knee jerk equivalency claims.

    She should also point out that he was able to provide the McCain campaign with 23 years of returns so it is clear that they are availabe. There should be no reason for him to refuse, unless of course he has something really damaging to hide.

    The world is a den of thieves and night is falling. -Ingmar Bergman

    by Pirogue on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 05:06:57 AM PDT

  •   (0+ / 0-)

    where she produces 10 years worth of tax returns and challenges Romney to do the same. This would make it a lot more difficult for the right-wingers to make their knee jerk equivalency claims.

    She should also point out that he was able to provide the McCain campaign with 23 years of returns so it is clear that they are availabe. There should be no reason for him to refuse, unless of course he has something really damaging to hide.

    The world is a den of thieves and night is falling. -Ingmar Bergman

    by Pirogue on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 05:07:06 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for this excellent diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Flying Goat, Phil S 33, chimene

    You're practicing the profession of journalism, since most of the people who claim to be journalists nowadays are merely stenographers.

  •  Ultimately, she's irrelevant. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Flying Goat, Phil S 33, myboo, chimene

    1 - She ain't running for POTUS.

    2 - Many of the millionaires under the Dome be in de same boat of overseas banking.

    cheerleaders need not apply.

    by kravitz on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 06:13:59 AM PDT

  •  Thank you (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Flying Goat, chimene

    Very good analysis and one that should get some visibility. Maybe the "press" will see your diary and actually try to report the truth. Tipped and rec'd.

    "...in a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy." Matt Taibbi

    by Getreal1246 on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 06:40:00 AM PDT

  •  No joint 401(k)s (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Flying Goat

    It isn't possible to have a joint qualified retirement account, is it?  No joint 401(k), no joint IRA, no joint 457, etc, to the best of my knowledge.  The tax code doesn't allow it.

    Good point above about the huge difference between owning stock in a Swiss bank vs. a secret bank account IN Switzerland.  By the any, anyone here have an account or do business with a U.S. office of Credit Suisse or UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland), both of which have U.S. operations?

    •  You're right about both, looks like. (0+ / 0-)

      Still think it's completely inaccurate to call this her 401k, though.  Could certainly be the case that she's actually the one managing it, though I'd argue that a "Financial Services fund" sounds to me like something someone who works at a bank would be more likely to buy (At least I work in tech, and have occasionally thought about investing in tech mutual funds...but never financial services, though that's anecdotal).

      Anyways, I'll update the diary to mention this.

  •  Let me be brief... (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Flying Goat, NancyK, Sylv, Val, myboo, chimene

    This is no (none, zippo, zilch, nada) comparison between a secret account held in a Swiss bank for one's own personal use, and the investment in a publicly traded mutual fund that may have an interest in the profits from a Swiss Bank.

    Mutual funds are regulated by the SEC and pay taxes.  Swiss bank accounts are beyond the reach of any federal agency.

    And just let me add....

    As one who regularly deals with determining whether Financial Conflicts of Interest exist, I can tell that investments in 401(k) and IRAs, provided that the individual has no involvement in directing the investments, are NEVER considered a Conflict of Interest.  It's the next best thing to a blind trust.

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